The cannabis plant has been used in just about every culture for centuries. In fact, cannabis is included in the 50 fundamental herbs within the cornucopia of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been cited in ancient texts as having a healing effect on over 100 ailments. In recent years in the United States, the collective mood is changing in regards to cannabis/hemp.
Cannabis and The Endocannabinoid System
The EC system consists of a series of molecular receptors that are designed to receive cannabinoids. In particular this includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as well as other related substances such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN). Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are designed by the body to be specific targets for THC, while our natural endocannabinoids help to synthesize it. The process of THC-cannabinoid receptor binding and what this does for the body is what researchers have been studying for over two decades. They are doing this in order to find out exactly how cannabis works in healing cancer.
Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (i.e. THC), the psychoactive counterpart to CBD, has been shown to reduce tumor growth as well. It has also shown to have an effect on the rate of metastasis, including for non-small cell lung cancer − the leading cause of cancer deaths globally. A 2007 study on THC and highly-aggressive epidermal growth factor receptor-overexpressing (EGF-expressing) lung cancer conducted by Harvard Medical School found that certain EGF lung cancer cells express CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. They found that the presence of THC effected metastasis of these cells by reducing the “focal adhesion complex,” which plays a vital role in cancer migration.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not have a psychoactive effect, has long been known as a potent anti-cancer agent. This is because of its ability to interfere with cellular communication in tumors as well as in its ability to instigate apoptosis, or programmed cancer cell death. Some research studies, including in vitro and animal-based trials conducted by San Francisco-based researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center, have also shown that CBD may affect genes involved in aggressive metastasis. It does this by helping to shut down cellular growth receptors.
Studies have also been conducted on the combined effect of CBD and THC on lung, prostate, colon, pancreatic, liver, bladder, cervical, blood-based, brain, and other forms of cancer. These studies lend increasing evidence to the fact that cannabinoids are not only antioxidant phytonutrients but powerful “herbal chemo” agents.
25% of Cancer Patients Now Use Cannabis
Although there is no such thing as a 100% guarantee that cannabis use will heal everyone from cancer, the stakes are much higher already right now given what we know about the plant and the illness.
A new survey from Washington found that at least a quarter of all cancer patients have turned to MMJ use. The study, which analyzed more than 900 patients at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance, revealed that 2/3 of the patients reported to using cannabis in the past. Another 25% of the patients also admitted to using cannabis in the last year, while 21% said they used it in the last month and 18% in the last week.
The patients said that they consumed cannabis either through inhalation or ingestion to help them manage nausea, stress, pain, insomnia, and depression; all of which are linked to a cancer diagnosis. What’s disappointing is that 75% of the patients admitted that they needed more information on cannabis and its health effects, which they couldn’t get from medical establishments but instead relied on external sources. Dr. Steven Pergram, one of the researchers, said that this could be a problem. “Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information from their cancer doctors about marijuana use during their treatment, so many of them are seeking information from alternate non-scientific sources,” he says.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pergram thinks that cannabis could have implications or side effects for cancer patients. “We hope that this study helps to open up the door for more studies aimed at evaluating the risks and benefits of marijuana in this population,” Dr. Pergram says. “This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere.”
Patients end up having to do their own research about cannabis online instead of relying on the healthcare system. Recently, a report also revealed that most healthcare providers don’t have enough training and education to provide information about cannabis, and clearly this is a problem in the community that should be addressed immediately.
To think that Washington has already pretty much completely legalized cannabis use, these results should have been higher since it would mean that patients don’t need to go through the procedure of getting an MMJ prescription. These figures are low when compared to the sheer number of patients who want to use cannabis.
“This study of cancer patients in a state with legalized cannabis found high rates of active use across broad subgroups, and legalization was reported to be important in patients’ decision to use,” the study concludes. The findings reveal that legalization is a significant reason behind the increased likelihood of cannabis use in more than half of the respondents. The researchers also gave some recommendations such as “…there is a need for clinical trials evaluating the role of cannabis in symptom management and for the development of formalized education for patients and health care professionals about the risks and benefits of use in this population.”
Additionally, research shows that cannabis is a powerful alternative to conventional medicine with its great success in treating some kinds of cancers better than others. Recently, the medical community has placed a greater emphasis on the medicinal benefits of CBD as opposed to THC, but there have been some cases where high THC strains and oils have been proven effective in treating certain cancer. There is no doubt that each of these valuable cannabinoids play an important role in treating certain cancers, but the government is preventing the scientific community from engaging in potentially impactful studies for those living with cancer.
For as long as cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug, there will always be serious obstacles in scientific and medical research. Much of the studies analyzing the effect of cannabis for cancer is limited to animal models and cells, although that’s quickly changing. The sheer amount of anecdotal evidence available online is also encouraging.
If “marijuana” is rightfully removed from a Schedule I drug, this would open the door for more targeted, federally-funded research as well as increased patient access to this amazing healing plant.
In the meantime, if you are on a cancer-healing path and are considering using cannabinoids, here are some general guidelines that experts agree are worth considering:
- Do your own research. The best way to learn about the power of cannabis in healing cancer is to start digging. There are approximately 500 articles on Pubmed alone relating to cannabis and cancer. Learn about strains, qualified targeted research studies, what method of administration may be right for you, and the importance of balancing the Endocannabinoid System.
- Know your source. Unfortunately, because the medical cannabis industry is largely unregulated, charlatans selling bogus products definitely exist. You should not have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for any cannabis product that you buy from regulated pharmacies or online. Also, make quality a priority for you. Be sure that your product comes from an organic source and that you know that the plant has not been grown or processed using pesticides.
- Stick with natural cannabis products. Synthetically-produced cannabinoids such as Marinol are commercially available. However, anecdotal evidence has found that these do not work as efficiently as natural substances do.
- Work with a professional healthcare provider trained in cannabinoid therapy. These professionals are out there in increasing numbers, especially in states where the medical cannabis industry is well established or growing, such as California and Colorado. Reach out to a patient advocate group online if no qualified professionals are in your area.
- Make cannabis therapy an important part of your overall cancer-healing toolbox. A well-rounded naturally-based cancer healing protocol involves working with the body’s own healing mechanisms through a variety of means. For you, this may mean changes to your diet and lifestyle, reducing stress, getting quality sleep, moving your body, intense detoxing protocols, and using other supplements and proven natural methods in addition to the powerful healing power of cannabis.