How is cannabis effective at treating cancer?

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My week started off with the following from a middle aged female with colon cancer (Let’s call her Mrs. C): “Hi doc, I was hoping I could use some cannabis oil to help cure my cancer. Can you help me?”.

I work at the cannabinoid medial clinic (http://www.cmclinic.ca) and to date I have seen about 300-400 consultations for cannabinoid therapy for patients with cancer. The types of cancers I have seen are varied: colon, breast, leukemia, and lung; and even this list is not exhaustive. Patients also come to me with a variety of different expectations, either aimed at “curing” their cancer, or conversely, to improve the side effects of chemotherapy. These include insomnia, anxiety, pain, nausea, and fatigue. In this article, I would like to both clarify and summarize the medical evidence for treating cancer-related symptoms, and offer my professional opinion as to whether cannabis can “cure cancer.”

There is emerging medical literature dedicated to studying cannabinoid ingredients and cancer. The majority of current studies take place in vitro (animal trial), because access to animals and ethics approval is easier. In vitro studies are also easier to complete. It is important to understand, however, that an in vitro effect may not be replicated in vivo (human trial). A recent summary of the medical evidence regarding cannabinoids and cancer is available online ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5054289/). Perhaps the most fascinating conclusion found in this medical review is the premise that cannabis may be effective in decreasing tumor growth and size.

There have been in vitro studies conducted focusing on the effect of cannabis on brain tumors, cervical cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer. However, there are many flaws in these studies. Such studies tend to be extremely small, often involve the co-administration of chemotherapy and radiation, and are technically designed to see if it is worth pursuing further research. Currently, there are no well-designed, double blinded, placebo controlled trials for cannabis and cancer; this is essentially the “gold standard” of medical research. However, the results published in these limited trials are encouraging. Many of the studies have shown cancers to reduce in size, limit in spread, and conclude consumption of cannabis is safe.

Unfortunately, many patients examine the above evidence and prematurely jump to the conclusion that cannabis can cure cancer. Based on the evidence currently available to us, we are not yet able to draw this conclusion. For now, the only accurate conclusion that can be drawn from reliable research is that cannabis likely has a positive effect on cancer (i.e. reduced spread, tumor growth). The research to date really opens to the door to more questions. What cancers are most favorable to cannabis-related treatment? What combination of cannabinoid ingredients? What dose? Or specifically, what protocol, combination, method of consumption, and duration of treatment?

Conversely, there is moderately good evidence throughout the literature to support the use of cannabinoids for cancer related symptoms and chemotherapy-induced side effects. These include: insomnia, neuropathic pain, anorexia, and nausea/vomiting.

When Mrs. C asked for my professional opinion on cannabinoids and cancer, I educated her on the current evidence in medical literature and explained that currently, the focus should be on improving her symptoms. I was confident that with the right combination of cannabinoids, the negative symptoms associated with her cancer could be alleviated. Perhaps most importantly, with a focus on reducing pain and suffering, improving appetite, sleep, nausea, and fatigue, the body will be better able to heal.

Article also appeared on Lift News: https://news.lift.co/cannabis-effective-treating-cancer/

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