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Cancer and Marijuana - The Science

Published: 19 Apr 2018

In this blog we’ll be approaching a topic that is increasingly popular and incendiary – cannabis and its medicinal properties. 

This topic circulates social media channels and news headlines regularly, with claims that cannabis can help with treating and even curing cancer.  

So, what is fact and what is fiction?  Let’s find out what scientists know so far.

The history

Humans have been using cannabis medicinally and recreationally for thousands of years.  Hemp (an industrialised strain of cannabis with very low THC content) has been used for centuries, manufacturing everything from clothing and textiles to biofuel and feed. 

It wasn’t until the 20th Century that legislators decided to make the substance illegal in most western countries and beyond. 

Recently, the US has rolled back on this legislation, with recreational cannabis being available in nine states, with a further twenty-nine having legalised it for medicinal use.

What are cannabinoids?

“Cannabinoid” is a blanket term covering a family of complex chemicals (both natural and man-made) that lock on to cannabinoid receptors – protein molecules on the surface of our cells.

The two most commonly known are THC (the active ingredient that produces the ‘high’) and CBD – a chemical that counteracts the psycho-active effects of THC, among many other properties.

There are also endocannabinoids which occur naturally in the body.

So, what evidence is there? 

As of April 2018, there have been, and are, many laboratory tests into the matter.  Lab tests use lab-grown cancer cells and test in controlled environments.  Even when testing in mice, this is in no way guaranteed to be replicable in humans.

In summary, the results from lab tests show that cannabinoids help with;

But there are some negatives too;

What about clinical trials?

Clinical trials are few and far between, with the US FDA not allowing the use of cannabis in clinical trials. 

There has only been one with results released back in 2006, and they were inconclusive.  This was primarily because it did not involve a control group, so measuring how much the cannabis treatment affected the brain cancers of its patients is impossible. 

However, it did prove that the side effects were minimal.  While some benefits were reportedly observed, all patients involved died within a year, which was expected for the late stage of their brain cancers when the trial began.

There have unfortunately been no further results reported from clinical trials to date (April 2018).

So, what now?

With a growing number of clinical trials currently underway in the UK, Europe, and countries around the world, the picture is continuously evolving.

Unfortunately, these clinical trials cannot be conducted in the USA as of yet, as the FDA has not sanctioned its use for research purposes.

The most effective use (in states where the drug is legal for medicinal purposes) is as a palliative treatment – aiding in pain relief or curbing nausea – of which there is ample evidence.  Further, using cannabis in conjunction with chemotherapy has, in some lab tests, shown positive results in the effectiveness of the chemo treatment.

For now, however, the jury is still out on how effective cannabis treatment is and whether it can help in the fight to find a cure.

This is simply a breakdown of a very complex issue.  If you would like to read up on it, then head here, here, or here, for a deeper insight into the science.

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If you have your own experiences or views and would like to share them, why not get involved with our chemotherapy support group on Facebook?  We’ll be conducting polls and engaging with the community to see what everyone’s views are on the matter are.

As always, anything we mention in our blogs is advisory only, and it is recommended that if you are interested in using this substance medicinally, consult your doctor beforehand (and, of course, always check your local laws).