Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
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.
The colon is the end of the long, coiled tubular digestive tract called the large intestine which is located in the abdomen. It acts as a waste processor taking digested food in the form of solid waste and pushing it out of the body through the rectum and anus. The lining of the colon is a prime location for the development and growth of small polyps or tumors. Polyps are often benign or non-cancerous, however the colon can also contain malignant or cancerous tumors. Colon cancer can occur in men or women and is most often found in people over the age of 50. Symptoms of colon cancer may include persistent constipation or diarrhea, blood in the stool and unexplained fatigue or weight loss. Colon cancer is often discussed together with rectal cancer, and together they are referred to as “colorectal cancer.” As with most cancers, early detection is key. Regular screening tests should be done on patients who may be at increased risk, including people over the age of 50 or who have a family history of colon cancer. Learn more below about how medical marijuana can help treat colon 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.
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:
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.
There are other, less common, tumors that may start in your rectum and colon. These include:
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.
Physical effects of colorectal cancer include:
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:
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.
Statistics reported by the American Cancer Society for colorectal cancer include:
Statistics from the Colon Cancer Alliance for colorectal cancer include:
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.
Your doctor may suggest a less invasive form of surgery if your cancer of the colon is small. Minimally invasive surgeries include:
Your surgeon may suggest other forms of surgery if your colon cancer has spread through or into your colon. These may include:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Two research studies based out of Italy were published in 2008, and both showed using cannabis to induct endocannabinoid system receptors could result in antitumor actions.
The first study, entitled “Estrogenic induction of cannabinoid CB1 receptor in human colon cancer cell lines,” was conducted by the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Institute for Digestive Diseases S. de Bellis in Castellana Grotte, Italy.
The medical community has explored the role estrogen plays in colonic health. So far, we know colon cancer occurs more commonly in men and post-menopausal women. Thus, it’s believed that estrogen plays a role in the prevention of colon cancer.
This study had several important findings, but most importantly they found that endocannabinoid receptor, CB1, is induced by estrogen. By upping CB1 expression, this could be a mechanism the medical community uses to allow estrogen to prohibit colon cancer reproduction.
The second study, entitled “Cannabinoid receptor activation induces apoptosis through tumor necrosis factor alpha-mediated ceramide de novo synthesis in colon cancer cells,” was more of a general look at how cannabinoids can be used to cause cancer cell death. The Department of Medical and Surgical Critical Care at the University of Florence in Italy published it.
They found that both CB1 and, more effectively, CB2 endocannabinoid receptors can be used to inhibit the growth of colorectal tumors.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
There are several methods of cannabis and colorectal cancer treatment, including:
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.