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Cannabis and Cancer, Explained

benefits_of_medical_marijuana

I recently read an extensive blog post by Dr. David Gorski, articulating, as objectively as possible, his argument that Marijuana Does Not Cure Cancer.

As a professional cannabis consultant, I firmly believe in objective, data-based science, but I also have a terminal degree in Fine Art, which means that most of my education existed in the subjective world of perception, taste, and how we feel about something. If there is one thing I have observed in cancer patients- it’s that they feel better using cannabis. I don’t want to bash doctors. Most are over-burdened by too many patients, have too little time, and not enough broad information on alternative therapies that work.

But despite Dr. Gorski’s eloquent and objective approach to the data on Cannabis research, I did not have much trouble finding the typical holes in his argument. As any rational person should, he responded skeptically to the copious sites on the internet that “prove cannabis cures cancer,” and gave us the real facts on cannabis testing:

“So while there does appear to be anti-tumor effect against the glioma cell lines tested, it was, at best, modest. Certainly it wasn’t the sort that would knock my socks off as a cancer researcher.”

Let’s stop right here and get to a major issue I have with doctors and the scientific community. His article is titled, “Cannabis does not cure cancer” but naturally, as someone with empathy, and feelings, and hope for my patients’ cancer survival, I was amazed how tone-deaf he came across as someone who specializes in treating cancer patients. Certainly he’s watched families grieve, watched once-strong individuals whither away, and women’s identities permanently altered by their breast cancer (his specialty.) Can he not see how “there does appear to be anti-tumor effect” (from a non-toxic, euphoria inducing drug) would spark hope and curiosity in the hearts and minds of his patients and loved ones?

The fact that a single plant- which has been illegal for 3 generations in this country– might actually have positive health benefits for cancer,  deserves a moment of pause. For the millions of Americans who have  smoked marijuana in fear of persecution, give them a moment of satisfaction that it’s now up for debate that it cures cancer!

Now I will counter with a National Institute of Health (NIH) statistic that he neglected to tell his readers in objectively responding to cannabis and cancer:

 “One study of 3,000 breast cancer patients found that those receiving radiation in addition to surgery did no better than patients who received surgery alone.[28]”

As I tell my patients, in order to develop effective treatment for the individual, a patient and his or her doctor must lay out all the forms of treatment, weigh risks objectively, and make an informed decision.

The same NIH study says this:

The FDA has approved more than 80 anticancer drugs, 40 of which are chemotherapeutic agents.

[They] are also neocarcinogenic which can lead to the development of new cancers that did not exist prior to the administration of chemotherapy.

So, again, I agree that we should take a conservative approach to whether or not cannabis cures cancer, but currently the cancer-causing chemicals they use to cure cancer also have a hard time curing cancer. And many cause new cancers.

The data to address cancer is more complex than just chemical agents. For example, the increase in effectiveness if a patient believes in his or her treatment. Or, in the relationship between feeling good using marijuana and how cancer treatment can increase depression. These are factors that may not cure cancer, but could help patients and their families fight cancer.

The point, again: If a patient is ailing, a doctor and the patient’s caregivers must put all treatments on the table, look at the pro/con data, and make an informed choice based on its effectiveness, and how strongly the patient believes in and adheres to the treatment.

In my opinion, the scientific data detailing the potential effectiveness of cannabis in reducing the symptoms of cancer treatment, as well as its measured (albeit modest) ability to address the mechanisms of the underlining cancer, makes it a viable medication that should be used worldwide.

If he (or other doctors) are still not convinced, perhaps Dr. Gorski can spend a few minutes online reading about the research in Israel here, or here, perusing this study on cannabis and cancer, or looking in to the scholarly data from Israel, in order to inform his follow-up blog posts on cannabis.

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