True or False: Cannabis Cures Cancer
“In 2019, there will be an estimated 1,762,450 new cancer cases diagnosed and 606,880 cancer deaths in the United States.” (1) 442 out of every 100,000 men and women are newly diagnosed and 161 per 100,000 men and women die from cancer per year based on 2012-2016 statistics. (2) It is the second leading cause of death in our country. Medical cannabis has not been proven to cure any specific types of cancer, but studies have shown it is helpful in many other ways including pain relief, easing side effects of cancer treatments, slowing or interrupting cancer cell growth, and offering protection from the destructive force of cancer. Our 5-minute eligibility survey can tell you if you pre-qualify to become a medical cannabis patient in Florida. At your first appointment you can talk to one of our Florida Medical Marijuana Doctors about using medical cannabis to help ease the side effects of cancer treatment or the symptoms of a number of other health conditions.
Cancer is a destructive force. It begins as an out-of-control abnormal growth of cells in the body. Instead of dying when they get old, these cells mutate, divide, and continue to grow. Normally the immune system shuts this kind of process down, but cancer overrides the body’s protective mechanisms. Some types of cancer involve tumors, or masses of irregular cells; in other cases, no tumors appear. (3) Cancer can spread locally, to surrounding tissue, or even to different parts of the body by traveling through the blood or the lymph system. (4) As this happens, the body’s defenses are weakened and unable to fight off the invading cells. This weakness, combined with the side effects of cancer treatment, can result in a host of symptoms for patients. While there is currently no scientific proof that cannabis heals patients with cancer, Florida medical cannabis patients may find it helps them cope with and relieve many of the problems they face as a result of the disease process and its treatment protocol.
- Cancer-induced bone pain (CIBP) is common in 75%-95% of patients with advanced or metastatic cancer. The reasons behind this type of pain remains mostly unclear, and it presents a challenge for patients and physicians alike when it comes to treatment. Clinical studies on animals show that targeting CB1 & CB2 receptors with endocannabinoids may help relieve bone or skeletal pain, offering the potential for patients suffering from this type of discomfort to obtain effective and safe results without the side effects of opioids. (5)
- Chemotherapy-related pain resulting from agents such as cisplatin often involves nerve-based symptoms or neuropathy and can be a major factor in patients deciding to stop treatment early. THC and anandamide have been recognized for their ability to lessen this kind of pain by binding to CB1 & CB2 receptors. In fact, not only did cannabis offer relief comparable to morphine for these patients, but the effects lasted longer; it also performed better than gabapentin (Neurontin) in both intensity and length of relief. (6)
Nausea and Vomiting
- Chemotherapy patients can suffer from two different types of nausea: the first is caused by the treatment itself, while the second kind is called anticipatory nausea and is related to what the patient knows is coming with the treatment. Vomiting can usually be minimized by using anti-emetic medications, but current pharmaceutical drugs are often hit-or-miss when it comes to effectively controlling both types of nausea in chemo patients. Δ-9 THC and CBD have been proven to decrease both nausea and vomiting when given in therapeutic doses. In addition, Δ-8 THC has been shown effective in easing nausea in children receiving chemotherapy without producing the psychoactive effects of Δ-9 THC. (7)
Bone Loss and Pain in Bone Cancer
- Triggering CB2 receptors with endocannabinoids can help slow the growth of bone cancer cells, increase their death or destruction, and limit infiltration into bone and other tissues. The endocannabinoid system can also encourage the restoration of bone balance in this disease. In addition, it helps decrease bone pain in patients suffering from this type of cancer. (8)
- Δ-9 THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids have been shown to slow or inhibit the progression of breast cancer in animals as well as relieving tumor-associated symptoms such as lack of appetite, nausea, and nerve pain. This is true for estrogen-receptor positive and estrogen resistant types of breast cancer. They act by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, causing their destruction and death, and interfering with their ability to invade and spread. CBD has been noted to increase the response of the body to chemotherapeutic drugs like vincristine as well as increasing the effectiveness of radiation therapy. Cannabinoids also decrease inflammation, which lowers pain and oxidative stress caused by cell death.
- In this study, a cannabis extract was shown to be more effective than THC and CBD, stressing the importance of the “entourage effect” when used as part of breast cancer treatment.
- CBD helps minimize the negative effects of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin on the kidneys by reducing inflammation and improving kidney function. It also reduces breast tumor growth and decreases the tumor volume, extending the life of the animals in the study.
- THC slows the onset and delays the growth of small (<2cm) focal tumors in the breast and lung tissue in metastatic breast cancer. (9)
Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)
- This is the most frequent type of brain tumor. It is also the most aggressive due to how poorly it responds to treatment. The average time of survival under the best of conditions is 12-15 months. Δ-9 THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids help reduce the reproduction of Glioma Initiating Cells (GICs), thought to be responsible for relapses leading to death by causing tumor regrowth.
- When used in tandem with TMZ, the drug of choice for GBM, cannabinoids also help reduce the growth of these tumor cells, increasing quality of life and enhancing survival. Higher doses of CBD (at a ratio of up to 1:5 CBD/THC) seem to be more effective in this combination, even causing cell death at these higher concentrations. CBD alone is not effective; THC is necessary for this process to take place. (10)
- This is the third most common type of cancer worldwide. It usually requires a three-pronged treatment involving surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. A drug referred to as TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) is currently the standard chemo drug used, but it shows limitations due to cell death resistance and a short window of effectiveness. CBD was studied as a potential addition to TRAIL treatment in order to help increase its ability to cause cell death and help destroy these solid tumors. In this study CBD enhanced the ability of TRAIL to bring about cell death, working with the drug to cause colon cancer cell destruction without affecting normal colon cells. (11)
- A study combining vincristine (one of the two most common drugs used to treat leukemia) with THC and CBD revealed that when used together, the cannabinoids enabled the dose of the chemotherapy drug to be dramatically reduced while not losing its effectiveness. The cancer cells are more responsive to treatment, there is a greater reduction in their numbers, and there are fewer side effects because of the decreased dosage of the drug. The combination of THC and CBD increased the ability of the drug to destroy the cancer cells, especially when the cannabinoids were administered after the chemotherapy, once again showing the benefit of the entourage effect. (12)
General Anticancer Properties of Cannabis
- Cannabinoids act on CB1 & CB2 receptors to damage and destroy a variety of cancer cells.
- They help inhibit the formation of new blood vessels in tumors (angiogenesis).
- The activation of CB1 receptors suppresses tumors and slows tumor growth.
- By interfering with necessary hormones such as estrogen, they can limit the growth of certain tumors.
- CBD is being studied for its potential to promote cancer cell death without utilizing CB1 and CB2 receptors.
- Cannabinoids enhance the immune system, increasing resistance and enabling the body to fight off immunodeficiency.
- While cannabinoids work with anti-cancer drugs to enhance their actions, they can also help limit the action of cancer cells on their own. (13)
Cannabinoids play an important part in fighting illness and maintaining optimal health by boosting the immune system, stimulating the appetite, helping regulate the sleep/wake cycle, regulating the pain response, and easing the symptoms of depression that often accompany chronic health conditions. Cancer patients who apply for and receive their Florida medical cannabis card have access to a medication that can help them live a better life.
Dr. Rothman is a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He has received multiple special awards and recognitions, including Physician of the Year, from the Pinellas County Medical Association (2014 – 2015) and the President’s Service Award from the Pinellas County Medical Society.
He attended medical school at State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, where he also completed his Obstetrics and Gynecology residency. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Rothman’s professional career includes being an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida and Clinical Instructor at the University of Tampa’s College of Nursing.
Dr. Rothman received his Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians Certification in 2016 and was one of the first recommending physicians through DocMJ in the state and is loved by many of those early patients today.