I’m going to unravel the cannabis/cancer conundrum.
There are a lot of interested people hearing about medical marijuana as a treatment for cancer and its symptoms. When somebody asks me about cancer and cannabis, I start by talking about the palliative path.
The palliative path is just helping with cancer symptoms. This might be the cancer itself causing pain, insomnia, anxiety, mood issues, and symptoms from cancer treatment. Many cancer drugs, surgeries, chemotherapies, and radiation can be very disruptive to the body. Sometimes it’s appetite reduction. It’s not the cancer that kills some people, it’s that they stop eating and get what’s called “wasting away syndrome.”
A lot of people dealing with cancer use cannabis casually. They’re smoking a joint before they get chemotherapy. They’re taking an edible to deal with sleep issues. They’re rubbing topical cannabis creams on their body to deal with neuropathy and pain.
But then there’s this whole core of people looking into the science of cannabis and seeing that there are anti-tumor effects. Rick Simpson is famous for developing a method involving high doses of cannabis through resin. People take a huge amount of cannabis and essentially distill it into its purest THC and CBD ingredients. They take hundreds and hundreds of milligrams each day – far more than your average user. It’s sort of creating an equivalent of chemotherapy.
It’s very difficult to take huge amounts of cannabis into the system. When you open the flood gates you can only take what you tolerate. So, someone who’s going the route of, “I’m going to cure my cancer with huge doses of cannabis,” the protocol is approximately 1,000 milligrams of THC every day for 60 to 90 days. That’s almost impossible for most people. Some people cannot tolerate more than 10 milligrams of THC at once. So, going up to 1,000 milligrams is going to be very uncomfortable for many people. Compassion is important, the comfort level of the patient is important, and work up to it very slowly. You can take enormous doses of THC or CBD into your body. It’s not going to shut down organs and kill people.
But we just don’t have the evidence yet that proves high doses of cannabis cures cancer. It’s important to remember that just because something affects one person’s body doesn’t mean it’s going to magically have that effect for everyone.
Anecdotal stories for marijuana
Let’s say you have a person who has cancer, takes high doses of marijuana, and their cancer miraculously goes away or into remission. This is not science. This is essentially showing that there are anecdotal stories for marijuana “curing” cancer. There is evidence that it can work for some people, but scientifically that doesn’t mean we’re going to have that result across the board. How do we get 1,000 people with the same cancer and deliver cannabis in the same way to all those people? And then, if we get good results like 20-50% effectiveness, then we have some science to back up whether cannabis actually “cures” or helps cancer.
Saying that cannabis cures cancer is a lot like saying the police cure crime. They can prevent crime, they can reduce crime, and sometimes they can be criminals themselves. Right? This is the organic nature of the justice system. Like the organic nature of cancer in our bodies, it’s more complex than just some cure.
I always lead people to the federal government’s data website for cancer, Cancer.Gov/About-Cancer. Scientists can put cancer cells and THC into a vitro (glass dish) and see the THC killing the cancer cells. Just because that’s happening with a cell doesn’t mean it’s going to happen with a cancer in an organism. But that’s the first level of testing.
The reason why scientists are studying this is because of the endocannabinoid system – an internal feedback system of endogenous cannabinoids. These are the chemicals we produce naturally. It’s the largest feedback system in the body, and it regulates cell behavior and proliferation. How cells proliferate is an important area of study. This is what cancer does, right? Healthy, normal cells in our body get confused and stuck proliferating over and over, becoming tumors.
There is raw data on cannabinoids helping to regulate the proliferation of cells. There is a study that took human lung cancer cells and inserted them into mice. Researchers then delivered THC to the mice and observed a 60% reduction in those cancer cells. These are controlled studies, these are not just guesses. These studies are searching for a deeper foundational understanding of what’s happening.
Scientists can also compile population studies. Researchers can get health data on thousands of people and look at variables such as kinds of cancer, patient demographics, and cannabis use. A famous study that’s powerful in terms of scientific evidence for how cannabinoids might contribute to cancer reduction found that men that used cannabis regularly had a 45% reduction in bladder cancer. There are some trials finding that high doses of CBD reduce myeloma cancer cells.
This doesn’t mean that cannabis cures cancer, it just seems to confirm that our endogenous cannabinoids and phyto-cannabinoids from the plant seem to fit into this regulating system in our cell networks.
There is raw data, but here’s the irony: There are no great human trials. In the United States, marijuana is a Schedule I drug. That means the federal government considers it to be highly addictive with absolutely no medical benefits. We can study things like meth, cocaine, and opiates that are killing people everywhere in our society. But because cannabis is Schedule I, human trials researching cannabis as treatment for cancer are very difficult to find. There’s not a lot of evidence there.
When we classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, we’re eliminating the possibility of so much research that could go into this plant. Most drugs are derived from plants and their effects on humans. Scientists need to study plants, take out the compounds that are in those plants, and see what they do. That’s really important.
I want to be objective as possible. There are some studies that show cannabis can have pro-cancer effects. Because cannabis helps cell proliferation, maybe it helps proliferate some cancers. But the studies are very mixed on this. We’ve spent decades trying to find all the harms of cannabis, and causing cancer is just not one of the major things. There’s way more evidence for cannabinoids having moderate tumor and cancer cell reduction than there are negatives from it in terms of cancer.
Go to the Cancer.gov website and talk to your oncologist and doctors about in-vivo and in-vitro studies that have shown cannabinoids can kill liver cells and reduce benign tumors in the breast, uterus, and the pancreas.
Cannabis is the first line of defense for cancer
My professional opinion is that cannabis is the first line of defense for cancer. Absolutely, you should do all the conventional methods for fighting cancer. That’s really important. Absolutely, you should get multiple opinions from doctors. But if you have a cancer diagnosis and you’re wondering about using cannabis, then you should open the flood gates and allow yourself to use as much THC and CBD as you possibly can.
If you live in a state that has legal cannabis and you or someone you know has cancer, I really encourage you to speak to a health professional who can guide you through how to properly use THC or CBD, which is the most conservative way to enter into using cannabis for cancer treatment. CBD is non-psychoactive and is not going to be this pronounced high. It’s also legal in all 50 states.
The key is to keep your comfort level regulated and your morale high. To make sure that the patient’s needs and all their treatments are getting met. There is evidence that cannabis helps people finish their chemotherapy because the anti-nausea effects are so strong. It’s important to know that cannabis is an option, but you should never take other options off the table. We have powerful drugs that are going to fight the cancer, but these powerful drugs can really hurt people. So, let’s provide an option for them that’s non-toxic to the body. In my opinion, it’s just compassion.