The uses of cannabis to treat complications of cancer and cancer-related treatments are very well known. Cannabis has been proven to alleviate nausea, pain, insomnia, depression, and other symptoms associated with the disease itself or chemotherapy/radiation. However, more and more people are beginning to use cannabis extracts to directly treat their cancers. While this application has traditionally been dismissed as exaggeration, mainstream media and even large medical organizations are acknowledging what cannabis can really do.
The Scientific Evidence
As far back as 1974[ref]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1159836[/ref], scientific studies have indicated the anticancer properties of compounds from cannabis. Phytocannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been shown to fight cancer through a wide variety of mechanisms. The most potent is the induction of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. All cells, including cancerous ones, possess the machinery to kill themselves in a controlled fashion. Cancer cells escape the apoptosis process and continue replicating despite their abnormal nature. By attaching to the cannabinoid receptors on cancer cells, cannabinoids restore apoptosis and allow the cancerous cells to eliminate themselves.
In addition to apoptosis, cannabinoids inhibit cancers through a number of other ways. They stop the formation of blood vessels to tumors (angiogenesis), which is a critical step in tumor growth. THC is especially effective at mitigating angiogenesis, and one study even found the anti-angiogenic effects worked in humans[ref]http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/16/5617.full[/ref]. CBD can inhibit the proliferation of brain cancer cells, as well as induce apoptosis[ref]http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/308/3/838.full[/ref].
Along with replicating uncontrollably, the other defining feature of cancer is the ability of the cells to spread throughout the body. While THC and CBD both have anti-metastatic capabilities, CBD seems especially powerful. It can actually down-regulate the expression of a gene known as Id-1 that promotes invasion and metastasis of cancer[ref]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025276[/ref]. By stopping cancer growth through several mechanisms, cannabinoids offer especially great hope as a cancer treatment.
The United States Food and Drug Administration determined that the evidence supporting the anticancer effects of CBD was strong enough to justify granting the compound orphan drug designation for the treatment of glioma[ref]http://www.marketwatch.com/story/insys-therapeutics-receives-fda-orphan-drug-designation-for-its-pharmaceutical-cannabidiol-as-a-potential-treatment-for-glioma-2014-09-29[/ref]. Orphan drug designation is given to new drugs that treat diseases affecting less than 200,000 people; the designation exists to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for small markets, and has several associated incentives.
Growing Human Evidence
For several years, real people have been reporting remissions due to the use of cannabis extracts. These stories have been mostly ignored on a large scale, but that is finally changing. On March 23, 2015, the BBC ran an excellent story about cannabis for cancer[ref]http://www.bbc.com/news/world-32020114[/ref]. It featured the success story of Stefanie LaRue, who beat recurrent breast cancer with cannabis oil as the sole treatment[ref]http://www.medicaljane.com/2015/02/03/stefanie-larue-cancer-survivor-and-advocate-credits-cannabis[/ref].
On April 20, 2015, another relatively mainstream report on this issue came out from an unlikely ally – Playboy[ref]www.playboy.com/videos/treating-cancer-with-cannabis-oil[/ref]. The remarkably well-produced video featured interviews with Dr. Bonni Goldstein and Tommy Chong. Dr. Goldstein in the cannabis journal O’Shaughnessy’s discussing a case where cannabis oil combined with chemotherapy achieved far greater tumor shrinkage than doctors predicted could be seen with chemotherapy alone[ref]http://www.beyondthc.com/cannabis-vs-glioma-another-encouraging-anecdote[/ref]. The same journal had previously reported on a different case where cannabis oil alone effectively reduced a brain tumor[ref]http://www.beyondthc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Evaluating-Cannabis-Oil.pdf[/ref]. As for Tommy Chong, he discussed his use of cannabis oil and cannabis suppositories to naturally beat his prostate cancer.
There have been many recent success stories posted by local news organizations. A 15-year-old girl named Taylor Rehmeyer from the United States used cannabis to finally eliminate a brain tumor she had for almost ten years[ref]http://tdn.com/news/local/article_b2b20ea8-ed02-11e3-8a23-0019bb2963f4.html[/ref]. David Hibbit from England used cannabis oil to help kill terminal bowel cancer[ref]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EsfM1k16dc[/ref]. Susannah Patch from Australia fought back terminal breast cancer with oil after traditional treatments failed[ref]http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2587931/cannabis-oil-stopped-my-cancer[/ref]. These are just a few of the incredible experiences that people all over the world are reporting.
The Future of Cannabis and Cancer
While it is clear that cannabis extracts are fighting many kinds of cancers in different types of patients, we still have so much to learn. For one, some cancers and patients seem to be resistant to cannabis extract therapy. This could be due to mutations in cannabinoid receptors or other aspects of the endocannabinoid system, or a damaged endocannabinoid system in general. There may be some cancer cell lines that are not susceptible to cannabinoids for some reason. For people who do respond, we need to learn the best cannabinoid ratios and dosing protocols to achieve the best results.
Despite how much there is left to learn, we know a lot from the past several years of patient-based evidence. Many people find great results by using high-THC oils and working up to a gram a day. If the oil is between 60-80% THC, as quality oil should be, this would equate to 600-800 milligrams of THC a day. Not everyone needs this much, and some people need more, but every patient should start low and work up to the dose they find most effective. Furthermore, high-CBD oils are also effective against cancers, especially when combined with high-THC oil. The best results are reportedly coming from patients using high-THC and high-CBD oils separately, although many have been successful with equally balanced, 1:1 THC:CBD extracts.
Cancer patients should work with medicinal cannabis professionals and their own doctors to determine the role cannabis extracts should play. In virtually all cases, cannabis can make a difference, even if it is just reducing the side effects of chemotherapy. For any cancer with a poor prognosis, it is especially important to implement cannabis oil as soon as possible.
As evidence from clinical trials and observational studies accrues over the next several years, humanity’s ability to fight cancer with cannabis will improve tremendously. We will know what protocols work best, and we will even be able to harness technology to customize cannabis treatments for individual patients. For now, caregivers and patients must do their best with what we know, and continue fighting for increased access and research.