Cancer is a broad term used to describe a range of related diseases in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably. It can develop in any part of the body and can easily spread to other organs, which makes it very difficult to treat. Chemotherapy, the primary choice for cancer therapy, does not work for everyone and is associated with many debilitating side effects, including nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia and anxiety, which can severely impact a person’s quality of life (Cherkasova 2022). In today’s article, we will take a closer look at how cannabis can help those with cancer.
According to the World Health Organization, one in five people will develop cancer in their lifetime. Cancer therapy usually consists of primary care, which is directed at tumor eradication (eg. surgery, chemotherapy and radiation), and palliative care, which aims to reduce the suffering of a patient. Since cancer and cancer-related treatments are associated with so many negative side effects, palliative care is a crucial part of cancer management.
Cannabis for palliative care:
Cannabis is a popular form of palliative care for many cancer patients. According to a 2017 review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, there is conclusive evidence from various randomized controlled trials that oral cannabinoids are effective for the treatment of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have been found to be just as effective, and in many cases even more effective than conventional anti-emetic drugs for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (Smith 2015, Machado Rocha 2008; Tramer 2001). In addition, cannabinoids can also improve symptoms such as pain, sleep, anxiety, depression, appetite and cognitive function, which all greatly contribute towards improving a cancer patient’s quality of life (Giordano 2023, Cherkasova 2022).
Cannabis for primary care:
While there is still insufficient evidence to support or refute the conclusion that cannabinoids are an effective treatment for cancer, various preclinical studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading (Rocha et al. 2014, Cherkasova 2022, Hinz 2022). Results from these studies have shown that cannabinoids are able to:
- Inhibit tumor growth and proliferation
- Inhibit tumor invasion (spread of cancer cells into neighboring tissues)
- Inhibit metastasis (spread of cancer cells to more distant locations in the body)
- Inhibit angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels required for tumor growth)
- Inhibit tumor-promoting inflammation
- Stimulate cancer cell death (via necrosis, apoptosis and autophagy) without harming healthy cells
- Reduce chemoresistance (resistance to chemotherapy)
While cannabis is commonly used for palliative care in clinical settings, there is growing evidence of its potential as a combination therapy in primary care for patients who do not respond well to conventional treatments. It is important to note, however, that cannabis is not a cure for cancer and should not replace conventional treatments. Patients should always consult with their doctor before using cannabis as a medical treatment, as it may not be appropriate for everyone and can interact with other medications. Although more research is needed to fully comprehend the anticancer properties of cannabis, the current evidence suggests that cannabis can be a safe and effective option for those who have exhausted conventional therapies or seek a more natural approach.