Home Health & Wellness How Does Medical Marijuana Help Cancer?

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There aren’t many things as scary as being diagnosed with cancer; it’s not just the fear of the unknown that gets you, itís the side effects of the drugs and treatments that include nausea, pain, depression and more. Fortunately, it looks like medical marijuana may be a highly effective cancer treatment and a welcomed alternative to the harsher drugs currently being used to treat cancers that include cervical cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia and more.

First, a Bit about The History of Medical Marijuana

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes dates back centuries, coming into use in Western medicine during the 19th century and besides for recreational purposes, it was used to relieve pain, convulsions, inflammation and spasms. The U.S. Treasury started taxing marijuana in 1937 under the Marijuana Tax Act, $100 an ounce for recreational use and $1 per ounce for medicinal use. The American Medical Association actually opposed regulating marijuana and didn’t want studies of its possible medicinal benefits to be limited. Sadly, in 1942 it was removed from the U.S. pharmacopoeia due to concerns about its safety. In 1951, the Boggs Act was passed, which grouped Marijuana with narcotic drugs which seems ludicrous today.

Under 1970’s Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug along with drugs like LSD, heroin, mescaline, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and several other hard core drugs. At the time, although marijuana wasn’t believed to have any medical uses by most, the government prescribed it to patients under certain conditions between 1978 and 1992. Fortunately, in 2014 it looks like medical marijuana is going to get the attention it deserves.

Marijuana & Cancer

Over the last 20 years, researchers have studied how the cannabinoids in marijuana affect the brain and other areas of the body. Cannabinoid receptors have been identified in the nerve and cells in other parts of the body which suggests that cannabinoids may play a role in immunity and help fight some cancers. In addition, an increasing number of clinical trials are examining a medication produced from a whole plant extract of marijuana that contains precise amounts of cannabinoids. The medical marijuana version they’re studying is applied by spraying it under the tongue.

An interesting fact is that even lung cancer patients can benefit from using medical marijuana because studies have shown that smoking marijuana doesn’t cause cancer; they’ve actually shown that marijuana slows the progress of lung and cervical cancer cells.

Patients undergoing cancer treatment often use medical marijuana to reduce vomiting and nausea and it has been proven to be highly effective. In a study conducted at the University of Arkansas, cannabinoids greatly reduced nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients following surgery.

Anti-tumor Activity

Studies have shown that cannabinoids may restrict tumor growth by obstructing cell growth, causing cell death and preventing the development of unnecessary blood vessels that tumors need to grow. In addition, laboratory studies have found that cannabinoids might be able to destroy cancer cells while defending normal cells. Studies have also shown that cannabinoids may protect against the inflammation of the colon, which may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

A clinical study of delta-9-THC in liver cancer cells demonstrated that it killed or at least damaged cancer cells and the same study showed that it had anti-tumor effects. It is believed that Delta-9-THC may cause these effects by affecting molecules that may also be observed in lung and breast cancer cells. A laboratory study of cannabidiol in estrogen positive and negative breast cancer cells exhibited that it induced cancer cell death without having an effect on normal breast cells. An unrelated study showed that medical marijuana may be able to stop the spread of metastatic breast cancer.

Marijuana & Chemotherapy

Cannabidiol in human glioma cells, when given along with chemotherapy, may also increase cancer cell death without harming normal cells, making chemotherapy more effective. Marijuana and cannabinoids have also been studied for ways to deal with side effects of cancer and cancer treatments, including the following:

Nausea & Vomiting

Two cannabinoid drugs, nabilone and dronabinol are approved by the FDA for the treatment of chemotherapy related nausea and vomiting in patients who haven’t responded to more conventional therapy. Several clinical trials have shown that both nabilone and dronabinol work as well as (or better than) weaker FDA approved drugs that are used to treat nausea and vomiting.

Cannabinoids with Opioids:

In a small clinical study involving 21 patients with chronic pain, combining vaporized marijuana with morphine relieved the pain better than morphine alone. Two small studies of oral delta-9-THC also revealed that it relieved cancer pain. In one study, patients experienced pain relief, relief of nausea and vomiting and increased appetite which diminishes chemo related anorexia. A second study confirmed that delta-9-THC could be offered in doses that provided pain relief that compared to codeine.

Whole Marijuana Plant Extract Medication

A study of a whole plant extract of marijuana containing specific levels of cannabinoids, was found to be effective in patients with advanced cancer whose pain wasn’t relieved by potent opioids alone. The patients who were given lower doses of cannabinoid spray demonstrated significantly better pain control as well as less sleep loss when compared to patients who were given a placebo.

Anxiety & Sleep

A small clinical study found that cancer patients who inhaled medical marijuana experience less anxiety, and an improved mood. Whole marijuana plant extract spray that contained specific amounts of cannabinoids, found that patients experience improved sleep quality.

The full potential of medical marijuana as a beneficial part of cancer treatment has yet to be discovered, but what has been uncovered so far is exciting. It’s certain that research will continue to discover new applications for medical marijuana in the treatment of cancer.

Depending upon your particular cancer prognosis and treatment plan, medical marijuana can be used either long or short term and still have a positive effect. Should you decide to use medical marijuana along with your current cancer treatment plan, itís sure to improve your quality of life during the process.


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