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Medical Marijuana and Cancer, Colorectal

In the past few years, there has been a growing awareness of the benefits of medical marijuana for colorectal cancer. And an increasing amount of preclinical evidence indicates medical cannabis has earned a place in the daily routines of patients with colon cancer for a good reason.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in your rectum or colon. Colorectal cancer is also referred to as rectal or colon cancer, depending on where it starts. These two cancers have similar features, which are why they're often grouped together.

Cancer begins when cells in your body start growing out of control. Cells in just about any area of your body can turn into cancer and may start spreading to other parts of your body.

In many colorectal cancer cases, they start as a polyp growth in the inner lining of your rectum or colon. Over the course of a few years, some forms of polyps may change. However, not all polyps turn into cancer.

The type of polyp will determine the chance of it becoming cancer. There are two primary types of polyps.

  • Inflammatory polyps and hyperplastic polyps: These are more common polyps and are typically not pre-cancerous.
  • Adenomatous (adenomas) polyps: These types of polyps may change into cancer in some cases, making them a precancerous condition.

Other characteristics of polyps that may increase your risk of a polyp containing cancer or increase your chances of developing colorectal cancer aside from what type it is. These factors include:

  • the number found — two or more
  • the size — bigger than one centimeter
  • dysplasia noticed in a removed polyp 

Types of Colorectal Cancer

More than 95 percent of all colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. These types of cancers begin in the cells that create mucus for lubricating the inside of your rectum or colon. When discussing colorectal cancer, doctors typically refer to this type. Adenocarcinoma subtypes, like mucinous and signet ring, may have a poorer prognosis.

most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas

There are other, less common, tumors that may start in your rectum and colon. These include:

  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) — These start from interstitial cells in the wall of your colon. Some are benign and are not common in your colon. They're usually found in your digestive tract.
  • Carcinoid tumors — These tumors begin forming in your intestine's hormone-making cells.
  • Sarcomas — Sarcomas arise in your muscle layers, blood vessels or other rectum and colon wall connective tissues. Sarcomas of your rectum or colon are rare, however.
  • Lymphomas — Lymphomas are immune system cell cancers that usually begin in your lymph nodes, but may also begin in your rectum, colon or other organs.

History of Colorectal Cancer 

Medical researchers have discovered evidence of cancer in humans in the earliest medical records of the ancient Egyptians (3000-800 BCE).

Jehoram of Judah, the Biblical king, was believed to have a curse on him with an incurable disease of the bowel that led to his death because of alleged evil deeds. Modern awareness of his condition suggests colon cancer.

Today, the American Cancer Society has established guidelines to screen and detect colon cancer early in people of average, increased and high risk.

Effects of Colorectal Cancer 

Physical effects of colorectal cancer include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Going to the bathroom frequently
  • Constipation
  • Blood in stools
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Feeling like your bowel doesn't empty properly after a bowel movement
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling that abdomen is full even after not eating for some time
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained iron deficiency
  • Palpable lump in back or stomach
  • Inexplicable weight loss 

It's essential that you get regular screening tests, since you might not experience symptoms right away. You should especially get a screening if you're over 50 years old or at increased or high risk of developing colorectal cancer. 

Mental effects of colorectal cancer include:

  • Pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fear of cancer coming back
  • Changes in sexual functioning
  • Impaired quality of life
  • Financial hardship 

Cancer survivors have a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. The prevalence of anxiety and depression in colorectal cancer survivors seems to be related more closely to financial concerns, physical functioning, lack of social support, cognitive functioning and concerns about cancer recurrence.

With these protective factors and predictors in mind, it's important you get a screening of colorectal cancer to identify your clinical levels of anxiety, distress or depression. You'll also increase your chances of early treatment for these disorders by discussing your symptoms with your doctors. They'll be able to provide you with appropriate referrals to support services and mental health treatment if needed.

Colorectal Cancer Statistics

Statistics reported by the American Cancer Society for colorectal cancer include:
colorectal cancer statistics

  • In 2017, around 135,430 individuals in the United States will receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, and around 50,260 of these people will die from the condition.
  • In both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed.
  • In their lifetimes, one in 22 men and one in 24 women will receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. 

Statistics from the Colon Cancer Alliance for colorectal cancer include:

  • Around 71 percent of cases of this cancer starts in the colon, while 29 percent begin in the rectum.
  • Your risk, on average, is around one in 20, but this varies based on your risk factors.
  • Of all new cases, 90 percent are in individuals who are 50 years old or older.

Current Treatments Available for Colorectal Cancer and Their Side Effects

The stage of your cancer, among possible other factors, determines the type of treatment you'll receive. Three options for colorectal cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Surgery for Colorectal Cancer

Your doctor may suggest a less invasive form of surgery if your cancer of the colon is small. Minimally invasive surgeries include:

  • Endoscopic mucosal resection
  • Performing a colonoscopy to remove polyps 

Your surgeon may suggest other forms of surgery if your colon cancer has spread through or into your colon. These may include:

  • Surgery to generate a way for your body to release waste
  • Partial colectomy
  • Lymph node removal 

If your overall health is extremely poor or your cancer is advanced, your surgeon may suggest a surgical approach to relieve a colon blockage, or other procedures to improve your symptoms. This surgical approach won't typically cure your cancer, but will instead relieve your symptoms like pain and bleeding.

Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer

Chemo uses certain medications to destroy cancer cells. The doctor gives chemotherapy for colon cancer typically following surgery if your cancer has reached your lymph nodes. Chemotherapy, in this way, may help decrease your risk of your cancer coming back. Your doctor may also give you chemo before your surgery to shrink your cancer before he operates.

If your colon cancer symptoms have spread to other parts of your body, you may receive chemotherapy.

If you have rectal cancer, you may receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy for Colorectal Cancer

During radiation therapy, you'll receive other energy sources like X-rays to kill remaining cancer cells following surgery, to relieve rectal and cancer symptoms or to shrink larger tumors before surgery so the surgeon may remove them more easily.

If you're in the earlier stages of this cancer, your doctor may not use radiation therapy. However, this therapy is a standard treatment for rectal cancer, particularly if your cancer penetrates through your rectum wall or spreads to neighboring lymph nodes. Doctors may try radiation with chemo before surgery. They also use it to reduce your likelihood of having to have an ostomy, and to decrease the chances of your cancer recurring in the same part of your rectum where it first started.

All of these colorectal cancer treatments have side effects, some of which can be relieved with medical cannabis.

How and Why Medical Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

marijuana and cannabinoids help manage side effects
One common theory in all scientific and literature papers is that medical marijuana and cannabinoids increase the benefits of conventional treatments for managing side effects. When it comes to cancer patients, they notice these benefits mostly include pain management and reducing chemo-induced vomiting and nausea. 

There have been several clinical human trials to study the effects of marijuana on cancer, including:  

  • A study of individuals with a type of malignant brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), in which the tumor shrank in two out of nine patients after receiving THC injections straight into the tumor
  • A couple of other clinical trials conducted in Israel studying GBM treatment using medical weed in individuals who didn't respond to other treatments
  • One other clinical trial, also in Israel, studying the use of cannabinol exclusively in people who had solid tumors and didn't respond to other treatments 

The good news for patients is that marijuana for colorectal cancer may help make radiation and chemotherapy treatments more tolerable.

The Journal of Molecular Medicine published a study by researchers in the UK and Italy showing marijuana extracts containing high CBD amounts may help prevent the spreading of colon cancer in mice. This high-CBD "botanical drug substance" inhibited tumor cell growth successfully without affecting healthy cells. Researchers found that this was due to activated CB1 and CB2 receptors in cells. 

During another study published in Phytomedicine, researchers found a cannabis sativa extract with high CBD contentinhibited cell proliferation of colorectal cancer and weakened colon carcinogenesis through the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors. There might be some clinical relevance of these results for using cannabis for colorectal cancer.

What Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer Does Medical Marijuana Treat?

Marijuana has proven to be helpful and effective for easing the side effects harsh pharmaceutical treatments like chemo cause. 

According to the American Cancer Society, cannabis may help treat symptoms of colorectal cancer by: 

  • Stimulating the appetite
  • Providing significant pain relief, particularly neuropathic pain
  • Providing nausea and vomiting relief from chemo
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Acting as an antioxidant
  • Treating seizures
  • Reducing paranoia and anxiety 
marijuana use didn't require as much medication

Studies have shown cancer patients using marijuana didn't require as much other medication.

Researchers also found THC, CBD and other cannabinoids slow cancer cell growth and even kill some types of cancer cells.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Colorectal Cancer

Cannabinoids are the chemicals that create marijuana's "drug-like" effects. There are more than 85 types of cannabinoids in medical cannabis. The FDA has already approved some of these cannabinoids to ease cancer treatment side effects. Nabilone-Cesamet and Dronabinol are synthetic forms of cannabinoids used for treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

THC, however, is not the only helpful substance in weed. Other cannabinoids have proven to help individuals with cancer include:

  • CBD
  • CBC
  • CBG
  • CBDa
  • THCa

Though we need further research about marijuana's therapeutic benefits and how effective it is in treating cancer, the one thing scientists are confident about is how effective marijuana and colorectal cancer treatment is in relieving cancer and chemo symptoms and its role in helping individuals recover from cancer. Some effective strains of medical cannabis that provide therapeutic effects include: 

  • Bubba Kush (Indica) — Marijuana is effective in battling the rapid weight loss cancer causes. Bubba Kush is a powerful strain that has been shown to have a huge impact in helping cancer patients with eating problems caused by their cancer treatment and counteracts quick weight loss.
  • Blackberry Kush (Indica) — Cannabis can drastically decrease pain that's commonly related to different cancer stages. This strain provides outstanding therapeutic benefits that alleviate patients' pain while providing them with physical relief and euphoria. 
  • Northern Lights (Indica) — Indica strains are highly effective in promoting sleep in patients with cancer, especially those who are receiving chemotherapy. Northern Lights is an effective strain for sleep. 
  • Afghan Kush (Indica) — Afghan Kush is another sleep-inducing strain that affects your mind and body by promoting a feeling of sleepiness or laziness. Because of these effects, it's often the strain of choice among insomnia patients. It's also a good strain for anxiety, stress, chronic pain and rapid weight loss.
  • Super Silver Haze (Sativa) — Medical marijuana is an effective antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment. Super Silver Haze invigorates and revitalizes creativity and happiness.
  • Super Lemon Haze (Sativa/hybrid) — Medical weed is extremely effective in relieving nausea provoked by chemo. Super Lemon Haze has antiemetic properties that relax your stomach all day. 

These are just some of the strains that may be helpful for you. Speak to your medical marijuana doctor or budtender to discuss these strains or others that may be right for you.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

There are several methods of cannabis and colorectal cancer treatment, including: 

  • Cannabis oil
  • Smoking
  • Vaporizing
  • Edibles
  • Tinctures 
  • Sublingual sprays
  • Transdermal patches
  • Topicals
  • Beverages
  • Ingesting
  • Dabbing
  • Suppositories

If you're struggling with colorectal cancer and are looking for the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis for colorectal cancer, and the perfect strain for your symptoms, search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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