Marijuana and Cancer: How Far Does the Association Go? - October 13, 2021

Marijuana has been associated with a whole list of state-certified medical conditions for its potential benefits in reducing their symptoms and providing relief to patients. While different states have their own lists of associated ailments, cancer seems to be a recurring condition that finds a post in all of these. The inclusion already makes one thing clear, marijuana and cancer have close associations, but how far does this association go?

How do we come to this conclusion of cannabis’ positive effects on cancer patients? How does cannabis help patients suffering from cancer? Does cannabis kill cancer cells? Can marijuana be a potential treatment and a replacement for medical procedures?

Let’s get into answering some of these questions.

Is Cannabis Beneficial for Cancer Patients?

Cannabis Beneficial for Cancer

Cannabis is known to have positive effects on improving health and quality of life in cancer patients. Unlike prescribed medications and therapies that are backed by research claiming the treatment of the ailment, there are limitations to such studies regarding cannabis.

On the other hand, the inclusion of the herb in daily routine, whether as a consumable or topical treatment, preferably in conjunction with other medications and therapies has been able to show improvement in patients.

On its own, however, cannabis can help patients get relief from pain, improve their appetite, reduce issues like nausea, and help patients relax in times of anxiety.

One should remember that there isn’t enough research and evidence to prove the absolute benefits or side effects of cannabis. It is for this reason that no physician recommends the sole use of cannabis to treat cancer in patients.

Another point of attention, the cannabis being recommended today by licensed doctors, is for symptom management and not for the treatment of cancer.

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What research says?

A few clinical trials to evaluate the effects of cannabis on cancer have ended with similar conclusions- the herb is beneficial, but it’s not a cure.
When combined with other prescribed methods of treatment, cannabis does provide major therapeutic effects for patients.

Since most successful research right now has been conducted on animals or on synthesized cancer cells in laboratories, there isn’t much proof of it being used as a medication or as a replacement for prescribed treatment.

On the other hand, you’ll find plenty of patients advocating the use of cannabis and how it helped them cure their cancer or how it improved their health manifold.

While this could very well be true, there is a possibility of other potential medications being at work. Also, anecdotal evidence alone cannot prove the potential of cannabis, it has to be backed by research.

Does Cannabis Kill Cancer Cells?

There has been plenty of research done to find the relationship between cannabis and cancer, a prominent one leading to the realization that cannabis might have the capacity to kill cancer cells.

A three-year-long collaboration between Dr. Matt Dun and the Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG), wanting to test the effects of CBD dominant cannabis on cancer cells, took forth the research. Taking leukemia cells as their subject, the final verdict was simple: the cancer cells were destroyed while the healthy white cells and bone marrow cells remained intact.

So, that must mean that cannabis is cancer-selective? Unfortunately, we can’t be too sure about this. Claims like these require more research than is currently available.

What they did find through this process was that a CBD dominant cannabis strain was much more impactful (in destroying cancer cells) in the case of Leukemia and Paediatric Brainstem Glioma as compared to a THC dominant strain.

Did You Know?
One misconception that needs busting is that cannabis is beneficial for all types of cancers. Even with positive results in destroying leukemia cells, cannabis is not a proven remedy for every other type of cancer.

Does Cannabis Relieve Other Cancer Related Symptoms?

For a patient suffering from cancer, body aches, fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite can turn into common sights along with other (more specific) symptoms like lumps on breasts (in breast cancer) or unusual bleeding and bruising.

While cannabis is not known to have much effect on bleeding and bruising, it can definitely help reduce soreness, pain, and nausea while increasing appetite and improving quality of life.

Even cannabis topicals can prove to be beneficial when treating lesions in patients suffering from skin cancer. CBD oils and ointments can provide that numbing and relaxing effect (location specific) while edibles or consumables can improve the overall experience.

Some cancer-related symptoms that cannabis is known to relieve can be:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety

Effects of Chemotherapy and Marijuana Use

Cancer can be extremely demanding of a patient’s energy, but its treatment too can be extremely painful and filled with side effects. Patients going through therapy and consuming prescription drugs find themselves looking for alternatives or supplements that can reduce these side effects.

Some major side effects of chemotherapy are:

  • Intense pain
  • Feeling sick and tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Memory and concentration
  • Mental health
  • Insomnia
  • Fertility
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore mouth
  • Infections
  • Anemia

Patients going through the pain and related side effects of chemotherapy can find greater relief with cannabis use. The herb is widely used for its benefits of reducing pain and nausea. It helps improve vitality, mental health, and concentration in patients that might be in a state of disorientation. There are multiple products available that can help patients relax, sleep well, increase their appetite, feel energetic, and be relieved of other symptoms.

Did You Know?
Cannabis interactions with your existing medications can lead to adverse effects. It is always recommended to consult your physician when initiating cannabis into your routine.

Can Marijuana be a Potential Treatment for Cancer?

As per current circumstances, marijuana isn’t researched enough to be considered a treatment for cancer. Whether it has the potential to become one in the future is highly dodgy. Why?

Even when certain substances show extremely promising results in tests conducted on animals or in controlled environments, they don’t necessarily stand their claims during trials conducted on people.

So even though cannabis has shown promising results and is even supported by anecdotal evidence, we cannot be sure about its status as a potential medication.

The hopes are still high. There is an FDA-approved cannabis-based medication out there already. Epidiolex is a CBD-based medication used to treat rare forms of epilepsy. The legalization of this medication makes one thing clear- cannabis has a scope of being used as a medication. This however is only possible after further research.

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Which Components of Marijuana are Best Suited for Cancer Patients?

We’ve briefly discussed this in ‘Does Cannabis Kill Cancer Cells?’. The research was done by Dr. Dun to check whether cannabis can kill cancer cells ended with a simple observation. CBD dominant variants are more effective in killing cancer cells as compared to THC-rich variants.

Would that mean that a cancer patient should prefer a higher CBD dosage as opposed to a THC dosage? Well, that’s definitely our recommendation. Let us explain why:

Adding to the fact that a CBD high variant is more effective (at least as per the research), high THC dosage is closely related to impairment.

In general words, you can’t drive and are more prone to hallucinations and anxiety.

While THC can help alleviate your symptoms of cancer, high doses of it can completely give you a 180-degree effect.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Cannabis Use?

This is the greatest loophole when it comes to identifying the benefits of cannabis for cancer. While cannabis isn’t exactly a harmful substance, its interaction with other medications, high intoxication, or unregulated substance concentration and source can make it a risky venture.

Not every medication is meant to be consumed with other components, especially those with a high THC percentage. You should inquire about the side effects of cannabis interacting with your medication. If your current physician is unaware of the effects of cannabis, don’t shy away from a second or even third opinion from a licensed doctor.

THC, even though it doesn’t cause any overdoses, is still a highly intoxicating component of cannabis. Higher levels of this cannabinoid in your bloodstream can lead you towards an anxious and restless night.

As long as the cannabis you purchase is acquired from a dispensary and has been approved by your physician, you’re safe to use it. But if you’re buying your cannabis from a retailer, the source and concentrations can be unregulated. This means that you could end up buying a highly toxic product without even realizing it. This can, not only worsen your existing symptoms but also lead to a very unsatisfactory or even uncomfortable experience.

The American Cancer Society’s Take on Marijuana Use

how does medical marijuana help cancer

Researchers and doctors, especially those associated with cancer, are always looking for alternative medications or processes that can help alleviate cancer symptoms and reduce the side effects.

This is what has led different associations towards researching the relationship between marijuana and cancer. The American Cancer Society supports further research when it comes to the benefits of cannabis products for cancer patients.

The association does not approve of using cannabis as a medication for cancer(because it is not a certified treatment). They make no statements about the legal position of the herb and believe that more research must be conducted before reaching any conclusion.

Should You Opt for Cannabis as a Treatment Over Prescribed Medication?

Marijuana and cancer, their relationship, and the consequences of their association are being researched today. Even when we know that cannabis has some great positive effects by itself, this realization is based on experiments on animals or cancer cells in labs. The rest of this conclusion is based on anecdotal evidence, which cannot be enough evidence to view cannabis as a medical substitute.

In other words, there isn’t any research that proves the sole use of cannabis to be a preferred treatment, nor does any licensed physician support this type of transition.

Even with the associated side effects of chemotherapy and medications usually prescribed to cancer patients, these are backed by solid research and evidence. These treatments have been subjected to rigorous studies to find out their potential, cannabis, however, does not have that yet.

This makes the herb highly unpredictable, not that its use will harm you, but the sole use of the herb without your prescribed medication may not prove to be beneficial. And the last thing you want is to delay your treatment.

Conclusion

Marijuana and cancer are closely related. But how far their association goes is still unknown. But there are few things that we do know.

  • Marijuana provides therapeutic benefits for cancer patients.
  • It helps relieve symptoms like nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and changes in appetite.
  • Cannabis consumables and topicals both can be used to relieve symptoms.
  • CBD dominant products have shown greater benefits than THC dominant counterparts.
  • The herb still lacks well-founded evidence backing up its medical potential- it should not be used as a replacement for cancer treatment.
  • Cannabis is not a herb without side effects, and its use should be regulated.
  • It also interacts with medications, which could be both beneficial or detrimental- its use requires prior consultation with your physician.

Selena Mora

A writer at heart and a sub-editor by habit, Selena Mora churns content for various online businesses. Her unique specialty is cannabis, and she has been following the industry for the past five years. She brings her writing personality, research, facts, SEO insights, and experience to the table. Besides cannabis, she also covers niches like travel, beauty, health, law, marketing, and literature. She is currently providing content solutions to Online CBD Store and other respected companies.