Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
When you have cancer, the cells in the affected area don’t die off like they normally do. These extra cells create tumors, which can spread to the rest of the body, causing damage. Common cancer symptoms include pain, nausea and fatigue.
Luckily, we have evidence medical marijuana can help cancer patients.
Some patients use medical marijuana to handle the health issues they get from cancer and its treatments. It relieves pain, nausea and inflammation — some of the most common cancer symptoms. We also have scientific evidence suggesting that we can use marijuana to reduce and kill off cancer cells.
In 2006, Guzman and a team of oncologists conducted the first-ever clinical trial observing the effect of a cannabinoid on cancer cells. They wanted to find out if the well-known cannabinoid THC had anti-tumor properties in patients with brain cancer. Also, they wanted to make sure it was safe to inject THC directly into the brain.
To answer these questions, they recruited nine subjects with glioblastoma multiforme, a dangerous form of brain cancer. The subjects had previously tried standard cancer treatments like chemotherapy and surgery with no success. Guzman’s team administered THC right into the patients’ tumors via injection.
While a nine-subject study can’t tell us about greater trends, the results of this research were a great first step. The THC injections into the brain showed no risk — subjects only experienced mild euphoria without dangerous side effects. Two patients had reduced tumor cells in their brain.
Yeshurun and colleagues investigated whether CBD, another well-known cannabinoid, could increase the success rate of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation is a type of stem-cell transplant used for blood cancers like leukemia. Specifically, they wanted to reduce the chance of patients developing graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), or when transplanted cells attack the host’s cells.
They studied 48 patients who received transplants, with 38 of them having leukemia or another blood cancer. The subjects received a regimen of standard GVHD preventative medication and CBD for 30 days. Yeshurun’s team observed them for at least 70 days after the last dose.
The researchers found that CBD has the potential for reducing the occurrence and severity of GVHD. None of the patients studied developed acute GVHD while they took CBD, and a low percentage of them developed the disease after the medication period. Their likelihood of getting GVHD was significantly lowered compared to the likelihood they would have had without the CBD treatment.
Ahmedzai, Carlyle, Calder and Moran examined how nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, could act as an anti-nausea medication for patients with lung cancer. The chemotherapy drugs Cyclophosphamide, Adriamycin and Etoposide, often used for lung cancer patients, can cause severe nausea. This study was conducted in the 1980s before nabilone became an accepted drug for chemotherapy patients.
The team studied 34 participants with lung cancer who were eligible for chemotherapy treatment. Every patient received either nabilone or another antiemetic called prochlorperazine for the first phase of the trial, then switched to the other drug in the second phase. They took a questionnaire about their symptoms after each course and told the researchers what medicine they preferred at the end of the study.
It turned out that the synthetic cannabinoid worked great to reduce the patients’ nausea symptoms. A total of 28 subjects preferred nabilone, compared to the 26 subjects who liked prochlorperazine. Also, it reduced nausea more, although it had more side effects.
Feel inspired to do your own research on cancer and marijuana now that you know more about them? Read our comprehensive guide on cancer and cannabis featuring scientific evidence. Or, you can use our search engine to discover a medical marijuana certified doctor who can write you a marijuana recommendation.