STORIES

Can Cannabis Cure Cancer? We Asked a Doctor

By Jon Young on May 2, 2017

There has been a groundswell in recent years of new research finding certain combinations of cannabis derivatives as efficacious in reducing and killing the growth of cancer cells. So much so, that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a U.S. government agency, has admitted the potential of cannabis for medical treatment, stating: 

“...recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one cell culture study with rodents suggests that purified extracts from whole-plant marijuana can slow the growth of cancer cells from one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that treatment with purified extracts of THC and CBD, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation.”

The research, funded by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), echoes another study led by a group of Spanish researchers that have been studying the effect of cannabinoids on cancer cells for nearly two decades. In 2006, the Spanish-led team started trials on human patients with promising results, paving the way for further research. Both teams have found combinations of cannabinoid compounds as a potentially successful treatment for glioma cells, one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

PRØHBTD sat down with a medical doctor from Oregon who runs his practice using both traditional and alternative medicine to discuss these findings and the broader potential of medical marijuana (MMJ). 

What is the potential of medical marijuana (MMJ)?

It’s like opening a dusty old trunk in the attic that was stuffed there by a cranky old uncle decades ago, full of amazing manuscripts that point to a hidden treasure. That treasure is only now being confirmed by research into the endocannabinoid system. Imagine that, our cells have cannabinoid receptors built into our cell surfaces—we just didn’t know we had the key to those receptors at our disposal. A short list of medical conditions that could be treated would be pain, neuralgia, inflammation, anxiety, infections, parasites, muscle spasm, anorexia and likely, cancers. Ironically, it has only been in the last few decades that the mechanisms by which cannabis works have been elucidated.

What are gliomas, and what has been the traditional treatment?

Gliomas are a group of very deadly cancers in the brain and other parts of the nervous system that are derived from glial cells, the cells that support the neurons in the brain in various ways. They are derived from the ectoderm which is also the origin of our skin. Gliomas, rogue glial cells, are extremely difficult to treat. Standard therapies of these gliomas involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but the prognosis is grave, survival measured in a year or two. Five-year survival is dismal, about 10 percent.

How do combinations of cannabinoids affect these cancer cells?

THC and CBC, or cannabichromene, alone or in combination with other cannabinoids—and even more so when combined with radiation—start a cascade of events in the abnormal cells that culminates with autophagy, “eating oneself,” or apoptosis, the act of programmed cell destruction. The cell is then cleaned up by scavenging white cells.  

Do the studies hold promise? What are their limitations?

Yes, pretty exciting stuff to imagine a natural substance being used to trigger a natural phenomenon, autophagy orapoptosis. However, the human trials involve delivering the cannabis solutions via catheters into the tumors in the brain. Definitely not a do-it-yourself kind of therapy. The cell-culture studies are still in the research phase and therefore a long way from actual approved therapies. Dosage, vehicle of application, and other practical matters are still a long way from being determined.

Have you seen any results from the use of MMJ?

Anecdotally, it has cleared common skin cancers in many of my patients. Used as a tincture under occlusion—a waterproof Band-Aid—for a few weeks causes most skin cancers to disappear. If the lesion does not resolve, more aggressive biopsy or destruction by other means can then be done.

With legal cannabis in Oregon, are more patients curious about MMJ?

I have seen a surge of interest in many of my patients who have chronic debilitating conditions, especially pain. A patient of mine had to admonish her pastor when he preached on the evils of cannabis. She asked him to be more open minded to at least the medical applications of cannabis, as a THC tincture relieved a chronic hand pain: topically, of course. Other patients are now growing their own plants.  

How accepted is the use of MMJ in the medical field, in general?

I have heard of doctors telling their patients they won’t treat them if they continue to use medical  marijuana. Others are more open minded. Continuing medical education for physicians in Oregon has included modules on medical marijuana, written in a generally open-minded, positive manner, emphasizing ongoing positive studies. Other articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association have been less encouraging.  

What do you think is on the horizon for MMJ? Should it be rescheduled?

It would be preferable if the DEA dropped cannabis to a Schedule II drug. It would facilitate research. However, I believe the genie is out of the bottle, and studies will intensify worldwide. The drug companies will want to get into it or try to sidetrack it as it could be threatening to their vested interests. To paraphrase the Bible, how can you compete with “The leaves of the trees will be your medicine”? In actuality at least in my practice, patients are increasingly looking for workable antidotes to the many ills they face rather than relying on drugs or surgery. Everything has its place.

Photo credits: GW Pharma and Wikipedia.

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