Does Cannabis Cure Cancer? [Addressing the Myths and the Facts]

Cancer. Sometimes spoken of in hushed, muted tones as “the big C”, as if its very name could summon it from the abyss.
Cancer has been affecting mankind for most of our existence, but its danger has been even more apparent as humans are living longer thanks to advanced medicine. Instead of dying from Polio or Smallpox, we’re living much longer and, consequently, becoming more and more likely to succumb to cancer.
Despite all our advances in medicine, we aren’t really that much closer to curing this awful, varied disease. We can treat it effectively enough, assuming you’ve caught it exceptionally early and you can tolerate the adverse effects of current treatments, but that’s about it.
Thanks to recent efforts of legalization, marijuana is becoming more and more used to treat a myriad of conditions, both fatal and trivial.
Could we be using cannabis to help cure cancer?

What is Cannabis and Why Do We Think it Can Cure Cancer?

Cannabis is the result of the earliest example of human cultivation – we discovered a plant that we can make rope and textiles from, but one that can also get us high.
Cannabis as a plant has history stretching back to the very beginning of humankind. We have been using it for a variety of purposes, but in recent centuries, its use as a psychoactive drug has become the most famous.
The psychoactive effect occurs due to a cannabinoid, THC, within the plant, which reacts and binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system. This is a biological system within the human body that’s very existence was unknown until we studied human reaction to cannabis.
Within the endocannabinoid system are the two key receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors exist primarily within the nervous system and the brain, whereas CB2 receptors are mainly focused in the skin and more generally throughout the body.
When you trigger these receptors using a medication, such as smoking cannabis directly, they have different effects within the body. By stimulating these CB receptors, your body is able to not only get a pleasant high, but also to begin the healing processes that your body normally goes through, albeit much earlier and more effectively.
For example, as discovered in a study by Carrier et al., inflammation – which is the body’s way of dealing with localized infection – was found to be principally controlled by the endocannabinoid system. By triggering the receptors within that system, inflammation is able to be drastically reduced when it is no longer necessary.
Before we can really consider cannabis and whether or not it can cure cancer, we need to remember that there are actually two different main cannabinoids in cannabis – THC and CBD.

CBD or THC?

It turns out that there are actually two main parts to cannabis, each with an important part to play in the human body. CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, meaning that they are compounds created within the cannabis plant and share a roughly similar structure.
Their key differences lie in their effect on the human body – CBD primarily interacts with the CB2 receptor, whereas THC interacts with CB1. This also explains why THC has a psychoactive effect on the body while CBD doesn’t, as the CB1 receptors that are triggered by THC exist predominantly in brain and create the famous “high” effect.
CBD also has a reputation as a potentially potent medicine, administered through CBD oil into food, or just taken sublingually.
The ways in which CBD has been demonstrated to help treat illnesses are incredibly varied: From treating psoriasis, inflammation, and even epilepsy, CBD has been shown time and time again to be possibly useful in combating some of the most dangerous and irritating diseases and conditions.
Even more interestingly, CBD acts as a sort of counterpart to THC, helping to deal with the unwanted side effects of the substance. It does this by combating the tendency towards THC to cause frequent users to develop psychosis.
In a study by Britta Hahn, it was demonstrated that CBD works to help suppress THC psychotic effects by preventing the unwanted release of certain brain hormones, encouraging the user to remain healthy and undamaged mentally.
Additionally, both CBD and THC are incredibly effective at pain treatment due to their interaction with the CB1 receptor, which encourages feelings of pain to stop triggering in the nervous system, allowing sufferers of painful illnesses to reduce their suffering.
Does CBD help treat cancer, though? And what about THC?

Why Doctors Have Been Using Cannabis to Cope With Cancer

For as long as medicinal marijuana usage has been legal, doctors have been using it to help treat patients in palliative medicine.
This means that marijuana has been used in the past to help treat pain and vomiting suffered by patients. This is due to the well-established analgesic properties of cannabis, as evidenced in this study by Ethan Russo that demonstrates cannabis’ ability to help nullify pain.
As cannabis both stops pain and also helps fight against the urge to vomit or feel nauseous, it makes sense that a great deal of doctors have used marijuana to help treat some of the symptoms of cancer.
When you suffer from cancer, you experience intense nausea and pain, the former mostly from the requisite chemotherapy treatments, which leave you with an intense urge to vomit frequently throughout the day.
Due to these unfortunate symptoms, it makes a lot of sense that marijuana is used so frequently by cancer sufferers and is recommended by their doctors.
However, does cannabis have any benefit to the cancer sufferer besides alleviating some unpleasant symptoms? Does it possess anything beyond analgesic and antiemetic effects?

How Cannabis Helps Treat Cannabis

Although the principal use of cannabis for cancer sufferers has been as a simple analgesic and antiemetic, it turns out that there is increasing evidence to suggest that cannabis itself has anticancer properties.
In a study by Sledzinski et al., published for the Journal of Cancer Medicine, researchers found that cannabinoids like CBD and THC work by modulating the signal pathways that are responsible for cell proliferation and survival. In other words, cannabinoids affect the parts of the body’s health system that are responsible for the creation of new cells.
As anyone who knows how cancer works can tell you, cancer is essentially just a condition wherein a cell has forgotten how to die and continues to grow. Due to a variety of samples within the study, the researchers discovered that cannabinoids could inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, as well as inhibiting metastasis.
The study makes mention of the fact that the exact processes of this are still not fully understood, but it still demonstrates that cannabinoids might be of aid in helping to treat cancer, as well as potentially being used to prevent it some time in the future.
Another study by Massi et al., published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, makes note of the effect that CBD could have in helping to treat cancer. In the study, researchers presuppose the usefulness of THC, but are concerned about the unwanted side effects of excessive THC usage, such as psychosis or other mental issues. Thanks to CBD, however, researchers have discovered a way to help combat this.
According to the study, CBD might be able to mitigate the growth of tumors in the body, as well as encourage the growth of new, healthy cells to replace the dead ones. Alongside this, CBD was demonstrated to possibly help in combating cell migration and the creation of unwanted cellular pathways.
Even more interestingly, the study shows that CBD’s potential to do this is linked to its ability to target multiple cellular pathways, rather than simply one at a time. This is due to the way in which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, triggering a variety of receptors at the same time instead of just bonding with a fewer number of CB1 receptors, like THC is known to do.
In both studies, researchers demonstrate with a great deal of evidence the potential capacity for cannabis to help in combating a disease such as cancer. The effects seem to suggest that CBD could be used not only as a potential medication in the treatment of cancer, but also as a possible preventative, stopping cancerous cells from forming from the very beginning.
What’s remarkable is that cannabis seems to achieve this with both THC and CBD, each of which work in separate ways.
Not only could cannabis work to help control the unfortunate symptoms of cancer and its usual treatment of chemotherapy, it also seems to help actually combat the cancer in its entirety.

Final Thoughts

Cannabis is quickly becoming well known as an effective medicinal treatment for a variety of conditions. While cannabis is already becoming associated with cancer treatment due to its use in alleviating pain, as well as mitigating the negative symptoms of chemotherapy – it feels like everyone knows someone with the ability to get medical marijuana – cannabis has never really been considered as a genuine way to actually treat the disease.
However, with the onset of new studies being published into the efficacy of cannabis, more and more doctors around the world are beginning to open their minds to the possibility of cannabis use in the course of cancer treatment.
Though there are still a large number of studies still to be published – there are still relatively few studies concerning the possible side effects when using cannabis while suffering from cancer – cannabis has been shown as a real possibility for cancer sufferers. Of course, much more research needs to be done, and it is likely that real pharmaceuticals containing CBD would be necessary in order to fully treat the illness – cancer is not something to be taken lightly and it will probably be a long time yet before we find a real cure.
That being said, it’s possible that CBD treatments might be able to aid cancer sufferers in one way or another; It turns out that all those people smoking Marijuana to deal with pain have been on to something the entire time.