Cannabis has for centuries been used as a natural medicine by many cultures. Particularly in the East, cannabis has been used as an intuitive part of medical practices along with other herbal medicines. In Europe, our medical practices are based on clinical evidence (to prove that the drug works), which is why cannabis is not considered an accepted medicine: the research is still in the initial phase.
This is why it is very controversial to mention cannabis and cancer in the same sentence these days. However, this controversy does not keep UK cancer patients from using cannabis. They are the living proof that cannabis oil can provide much-needed relief for the thousands of patients diagnosed with cancer each year.
From a moral standpoint, it is certainly not alright to give cancer patients false hopes about their prognosis, but at the same time, we believe that these patients should be able to choose the treatment plan they want.
This article is for those who wish to know more about the use of cannabis oil with CBD for cancer. And in order to understand how cannabis and CBD could potentially help some cancer patients, it is important to first understand how cancer actually develops.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a disease in the body’s cells. The condition can arise at any time in life and in any part of the body, but there are certain factors that can mak cells more susceptible to cancer: poor diet, passive life style choices, bad habits, and also hereditary factors are among the causes of cancer.
The condition, cause and prognosis of cancer can vary greatly from patient to patient, but in general, cancer is due to damaged genetic material.
Genetic material (our DNA) is responsible for the division and replacement of the body’s cells to ensure that a fresh supply of cells are always ready to maintain and defend the body’s vital functions. However, when our DNA is damaged, it is no longer able to create healthy cells. DNA can be damaged from birth (due to a genetic defect), or it can have been damaged because of our choices in life.
When damaged genetic material loses control of its cell production, there risk of an uninhibited growth of cells is increased. This is how tumors develop. Tumors can either be benign, where normal cells divide too rapidly and create relatively harmless masses; or the damaged DNA can cause a growth of abnormal cells which mutate and become malignant tumors: cancer.
How Can Cannabis Help?
Like the prognosis, type and treatment of cancer can vary, so can the potential benefits of cannabis differ from person to person.
There are several ways in which cannabis oil with CBD can make a difference for each individual patient. This has been confirmed by both cancer researchers and patients, whose experiences with cannabis to fight cancer spans over decades. Such evidence has proven that patients can benefit from using cannabis oil for cancer in various stages of its progression, including:
- Palliative care (symptomatic treatment)
- Complementary treatment
- Tumor fighting and prevention
1. Cannabis for Palliative Care
For a lot of cancer patient, the treatment of their condition is often more draining than the cancer itself. Radiation, operations and chemotherapy are among the commonly used treatment methods available to cancer patients today. There are also many other treatment options, but the various cancer and treatment types often cause a long line of uncomfortable symtoms, such as:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Wounds, oedema or infections
- Lack of appetite
- Insomnia and other sleep issues
Since 1975, researchers have given the impact of cannabinoids on cancer cells a lot of attention. As cannabinoids have mainly used in palliative care research, scientists have focused on easing the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of its treatment.
Such research indicates that cannabis oil with CBD can effectively ease the abovementioned symptoms, but scientists also suggest that cancer patients can:
- Use CBD to reduce nausea
- Use cannabis to ease pains
- Benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD
- Regain their appetite with the use of cannabis
- Ease feelings of anxiety and depression by using CBD
- Use CBD to improve their quality of sleep and feel more energetic throughout the day
Cannabis oil with CBD can potentially help reduce many of the side effects that cancer patients may experience due to their illness and treatment. This can furthermore help them increase their quality of life, and also their level of motivation and hope throughout their illness. But actually, cannabis can do more than that. Scientists have reached some even more interesting results by giving CBD to patients duirng their cancer treatment.
2. Cannabis as a Complementary Treatment Option
Studies on combining conventional cancer treatments with the use of cannabis oil with CBD has gained a lot of attention in the past few years, where the medical use of cannabis is slowly gaining the acceptance of doctors and medical experts. The studies primarily focus on synthetic or isolated cannabinoids, which are copies or individual compounds of the active ingredients from the cannabis plant, but the results are still very promising.
The most well-researched cannabinoids are called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both of these are known for their positive effects on nausea, pain, appetite, and inflammations, and more effects are currently being researched. Preliminary studies have also found that CBD could make chemotherapy more effective and thereby increase the efficiency of conventional treatment methods for cancer.
Recent animal studies also indicate that CBD can help reduce cancer cell survival rates by activating the body’s innate anti-tumor-response. The body is in fact able to stop cancer cells from spreading, but an imbalance in emzyme levels can limit this ability. CBD can help the body reestablish this natural balance and help it limit the spread of the cancer. Studies have for example shown that CBD can suppress the reactions that make cancers of the breasts and lungs metastesize.
More specifically, CBD is able to reduce the immune function that transports cells from one part of the body to another. This immune cell migration is meant to protect the body from infections, but when our DNA produces abnormal cells, the immune system is unable to keep up; it gets stressed because it cannot repair or kill the cancer cells on its own. This is where CBD’s ability to reduce cell migration becomes valuable, because it prevents the damaged cancer cells from spreading. And by doing this, CBD oil is also able to reduce the inflammations that create the acidic environment (low pH values) where cancer cells thrive.
CBD therefore has the potential to both regulate and suppress the immune system. This is quite similar to the effects of chemotherapy, which also suppresses the immune system in order to “pause” it and kill the cells that our damaged immunal function cannot do on its own. In this way, CBD helps the body activate its own cancer-fighting abilities. And perhaps the most significant difference between chemotherapy and CBD is that CBD causes much fewer side effects.
Unfortunately for cancer patients in some countries, researchers are still unable to identify exactly why CBD has such an effect on cancer cells and tumor growth. One theory is that CBD stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are pure poison to cancer cells and helps to kill them. Another theory suggests that CBD among other cannabinoids prevents the degradation of anandamide, an endocannabinoid that can reduce tumor growth.
The Endocannabinoid System and Cancer
Endocannabinoids are cannabinoid-like compounds that the body produces.
The body’s cannabinoids are called endocannabinoids because endo means “within” in Greek, while the plant’s cannabinoids are called phytocannabinoids (phyto means “plant” in Greek).
The bodily production of endocannabioids and the entire system, which also includes the immune and central nervous system, are jointly called the endocannabinoid system. This system consists of a bunch of receptors all over the body, which specialise in revieving cannabinoids; both phyto-, endo- and the synthetic ones.
The endocannabinoid system uses these cannabinoids to regulate the body’s response to disease. This is most likely the reason why a high level of endocannabinoids and overactive cannabinoid receptors have been observed in patients with many various types of cancer. Especially in aggressive cancer types, high levels of endocannabinoids have been observed. This indicated that the endocannabinoids might be the body’s way of trying to kill the cancer.
When endocannabinoids are unable to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading, it is a sign of a bodily imbalance. This can lead to an overactive immune system, which is also believed to be closely related to the occurance of cancer due to the acidic levels that the inflammatory immune responses create in the body. In its attempt to heal itself, our body can actually end up making matters worse.
Research has found cannabis oil with CBD to be effective as an anti-inflammatory, immune regulating and immunal suppresive, which means that the cannabinoid could potentially help recreate a natural and healthy bodily balance. As such, CBD oil could help the endocannabinoid system fight cancer. Both those synthetic and phytocannabinoids that activate the endocannabinoid system and those that do not have in several studies shown to reduce the spread of cancer cells by preventing tumor angiogenesis (when tumors put out “roots” by creating their own blood vessels) and also stop metastases.
Moreover, scientists have located an endocannabinoid-killing enzyme in malignant tumors, which further indicates that cancer cells do not like endocannabinoids. And when researchers reduced the levels of this enzyme, the tumors grew at a slower pace.
Unfortunately, not all cancer types respond equally well to endocannabinoids. The theory on why this is the case suggests that cancer types originating in tissue with a low activation of endocannabinoid receptors are less susceptible to the possible cancer-killing effects of CBD.
3. The Cancer-Fighting Properties of Cannabinoids
Medical researchers generally prefer to use synthetic cannabinoids in their studies. Such cannabinoids do not originate from the plant or our own bodies, but are manufactured in a laboratory. The reason for this preference is that synthetic cannabinoids are easier to copy, which is the golden standard within medical research: replicability. Isolated cannabinoids (derived from plant material and processed in a laboratory) are also easier for researchers to study, because it fascilitates the elimination process (i.e. identifying which cannabinoid has certain properties).
Many active scientific studies that use synthetic and isolated cannabinoids have found interesting proof of such cannabininoids’ anti-cancerous effects. In animal trials, mice and rats were given small doses of isolated THC over a period of time, and the results showed a reduction of the neoplasia (the growth of tumors associated with chronic inflammations) and also a preventative effect against the development of cancer. A similar study from Havard University observed that the growth rate of tumors in the lungs of mice was cut in half and that metastasis was significantly reduced when THC was given in small doses.
Another study researched the effects of THC when injected directly into malignant tumors. Here, the uninhibited growth of tumors showed signs of remission, which further supports the theory that THC can kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, such experimental studies are only offered to terminally ill cancer patients, because the medical world remains very hesitant about using this potentially psychoactive cannabinoid. But patients included in this study experienced no adverse or psychotropic effects of the THC.
Most medical studies on cannabis focus on the cannabinoid THC, because it was the first cannabinoid that was identified and isolated by scientific researchers. It is also one of the few cannabinoids that researchers actually know how is metabolised in the body and, more important, how it affects cancer.
THC directly activates the CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, and this is why researchers suggest that THC can directly cause cancer cells to commit suicide. The theory of THC enducing cancer cell suicide is based on the discovery that some types of cancer cells have CB2 receptors. As such, THC might have the potential to bind itself to the sick cells, stop the inflammations that keep these cells alive and can force them to commit suicide. In fact, this knowledge is nothing new; scientists have actually known this since 1998.
However, studies that use isolated or synthetic cannabinoids rarely achieve the same convincing results as those that use natural cannabis extracts in their trials. CBD in isolated form does have anti-inflammatory, antiemetic and analgesic effects, but not of the same caliber as entirely natural extracts of CBD from the cannabis plant.
Also known as the entourage effect, the harmony between the various cannabinoids and also the many other naturally occuring compounds of the cannabis plant (such as terpines and flavonoids) profoundly contribute to the pharmacological reactions of cannabinoids. As opposed to isolated and synthetic cannabinoids, cannabis-based products work in synergy with endo- and phytocannabinoids to induce the death of sick cells, while healthy cells remain unaffected. Natural cannabinoids are also able to initiate selective cell death in the membranes, where only the defective parts of a cell dies (also called autophagy). The synergy between cannabinoids have shown positive results in breast and prostate cancers, as well as lung, liver, cervical, and thyroid cancers.
Due to such groundbreaking results, cannabis researchers are starting to agree on the fact that the synergy between phytocannabinoids is not replicable in a synthetic version – and that it is this synergy, which makes cannabis against cancer a very valid possibility. So when researchers isolate cannabinoids (or replaces them with synthetic analogues entirely) in hopes of identifying their cancer-fighting properties, they also lose the synergestic effect which might just be the reason why cannabis is so interesting for cancer research.
The Cancer Treatment of the Future
It is still too early to say whether cannabinoids will be the cancer treatment of the future. Such a statement will require more research, proof and medical trials in order to validate. Nonetheless, researchers have already confirmed the cancer-fighting effects of cannabinoids.
Be it primarily the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, the cancer cell reducing properties of THC or the complex synergy between the many cannabinoids found in the plant that makes cannabis a viable option for the future of cancer treatment is still in the unknown. Research is still in the preliminary fases, and more studies and experiences are needed in order to confirm whether cannabis kills cancer.
This means that there is only one way of knowing if cannabis for cancer works for you: by trying it yourself. This is a brave decision and therefore not one you should make alone, which is why we always recommend that you talk with your family, friend and your GP, before you start using CBD oil for cancer.