Treating cancer with cannabis? Here is what the experts say.
Does cannabis kill cancer cells? A lot of people refuse to believe it; others have seen it happen.
And even the people who have experienced it, couldn’t believe their eyes at first.
“Honestly, right in the beginning, it seemed too good to be true,” says Constance Finley, who first started working with an oncologist in 2012 to treat stage-4 cancer patients with Constance Therapeutics cannabis oil.
“I could not believe that [the successful results] we saw were caused from cannabis oil,” Finley says of the cancer patients she first worked with. “I remember thinking why haven’t we been turning to this plant all this time?”
Finley’s question is exactly right, especially since cancer has been so burdensome in the United States. Statistics show that over 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, while almost 600,000 will lose their lives to the disease.
And here’s a real eye-opener: almost 40 percent of us will likely be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes.
So why has cannabis been continuously buried as a treatment option for cancer?
The question is especially hurtful once you realize that studies pointing to cannabis as a legitimate treatment for cancer go all the way back to the 1970s.
From Recognition to Advancement
The science surrounding cannabis as a viable treatment for cancer is there for anybody willing to take a look.
A 1974 study from the University of Virginia, for example, found cannabis oil to be effective in the treatment of brain tumors.
And yet, fast forward to today, and this plant is still blowing our minds. Just check out this study from 2015 that shows a 45% drop in bladder cancer rates among cannabis consumers.
As the failed experiment of prohibition continues to fall apart, our knowledge surrounding this plan continues to rise. We are also seeing a rise in the number of cannabis-derived products used to treat cancer and other illnesses; also rising are the hopes of both patients and medical professionals.
“It’s huge. There’s a huge potential there. The more we learn about this plant, the more attractive it becomes,” says Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a physician and medical geographer based in Seattle, Washington.
“As we do more research, it just continues to open up new possibilities for multiple types of cancer – breast, prostate, pancreatic, lymphoma, and melanoma are some of the cancer conditions that have been studied in preclinical research and early human clinical research… And that’s been known since ‘74.”
How cannabis attacks the cancer cells
The cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant work directly with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is comprised of receptors known as CB1 and CB2 (and a few others we’re just now learning about). These receptors are found throughout our entire body and work with cannabinoids to promote homeostasis for all of our metabolic processes.
Our body produces its own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, which essentially activate these important receptors.
But these endocannabinoids are not always enough, and when that happens any number of things can go wrong – including cancer.
When our body isn’t producing enough endocannabinoids, we turn to the plant-based cannabinoids found in cannabis. These supplementary cannabinoids combine with our CB receptors, activating them like a lock and key, helping our bodies achieve homeostasis and fight disease.
According to Mara Gordon, the founder of Aunt Zelda’s, who has worked with over 600 patients, the process of activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors is crucial in the killing of cancer.
“When the CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated within the body,” she says, “they begin a chemical cascade that results in something called apoptosis, which is programmed cell death. That’s when the [cancer] cell actually commits suicide and dissipates in such a way where it leaves no residue, no harm within the body, no dead toxicity.”
One important point, Gordon adds, is that this process only kills cancer cells. “The healthy cells just fill the dissipated cell’s place and keep on their way.”
What Does ‘Treatment’ Mean?
Although research shows cannabis and its derivatives as being effective in cancer treatment, the word ‘treatment’ must be considered from more than one angle.
In addition to using cannabis to kill cancer, patients could also use it to alleviate their pain, or simply extend the time that they have.
“How do you measure success?” Gordon asks.
“Do you measure it by the fact that the person lived two months longer? Do you measure it by the fact that they had quality of life up until the time they died? Do you measure it by how they went into full remission and they have not relapsed with no reoccurrence? Do you measure it in the fact that it alleviated the symptoms?”
Whenever Gordon begins to work with a new patient, one of the first tasks is to clarify the person’s objective.
While there are rarely any guarantees when it comes to medicine, the renaissance of medical cannabis treatment has resulted in many success stories.
“The first oncologist that referred people to me referred 28 stage-4, second-occurrence patients back in 2012,” Constance Finley says.
“He only sent me the people that were really hopeless and that he didn’t think he had any way to help. And 26 of those people, he says, went into remission. So that’s a 96 percent rate.”
“Generally, we see about 70-80 percent positive results from the people that report back,” she continues. “Now, that isn’t everyone, so we can’t make very definitive statements, but what it leads us to be is very, very hopeful for serious applications being developed.”
While cannabis has been shown to be remarkably effective in the treatment of cancers and tumors, those who administer treatments stress the importance of managing patients’ expectations.
It is important to note that very few, if any, medical treatments are touted as a universal cure. Same goes for cannabis and cancer.
Thus, as with any other disease, over-promising on the effectiveness of cancer treatment may instill a false sense of confidence in patients and their families. It may even be counterproductive in efforts to treat the patient.
“It’s a written rule, not just an unwritten rule: We do not use the word ‘cure,’” says Gordon. “It’s not like you caught a cold and then you get rid of the cold. This is something that’s happened because systems within your body are breaking down.”
Overpromising on treatment could also bring about regulatory and legal problems. For example, a doctor failing to deliver on the promise of a cure could be found to be in breach of contract, which often results in legal action.
“As a medical cannabis company, we’re not in a position to make statements about whether our products can cure illnesses,” Finley explains.
“That said, we work with many doctors who evaluate our protocol and recommend our cannabis oils to patients as an integrative treatment option for a variety of conditions. We have received positive feedback from both recommending physicians and directly from patients that have incorporated our oils into their treatment.”
Looking to the future
Proponents of medical cannabis have much to look forward to in the coming years. Even more successful methods of treatment are being devised and cannabis products are becoming even more sophisticated, signaling that opportunities for advancement have only just begun.
More important, 2016 is one of the biggest years yet for cannabis legalization. With 14 states on the ballot to pass reform measures, we have every opportunity to give our greatest health concerns a fighting chance.
“The medicinal properties of cannabis have been heavily vetted. This is the real deal. We may not have all the full information that we’d like, but that’s not the fault of science – it’s the fault of politics,” says Dr. Aggarwal. “It’s just a matter of getting it to the right decision-makers so that we can end the stupidity of prohibition once and for all.”
Has cannabis helped you or someone you know overcome a battle with cancer? We would love to hear your story. Feel free to leave a comment below.