Cancer is one of the most feared diseases in the world. It is so feared that people diagnosed with it are often willing to try almost anything to cure it. This leads to the question of medical cannabis as a cancer treatment. Dozens of states allow it. But medical cannabis treatments are not offered as cures.
Cancer is a qualifying condition in Utah, according to the experts behind the Utahmarijuana.org website. However, state lawmakers did not add cancer to the qualifying conditions list under the false assumption that cannabis is a cancer cure. Instead, cannabis can be used to help mitigate nausea, pain, and other symptoms of both the disease and its treatments.
Cancer Isn’t One Disease
One of the many difficulties researchers face in finding a cure for cancer is the fact that it is not just a single disease. There are literally hundreds of different types of cancer. We are familiar with skin cancer, breast cancer, et al. But the truth is that cancerous cells can grow in any part of the body. No human tissue is completely immune to cancer growth.
The other challenge for researchers is the reality that cancer tends to be a very individualized disease. This is to say that cancer doesn’t always follow the same pattern or progression in every patient. Everything from where cancerous cells show up to how they reproduce and spread is different from one patient to the next.
Cancer’s realities make it extremely difficult to come up with a targeted treatment that doesn’t harm other tissue. The best we have right now are radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and surgical procedures. All three options damage otherwise healthy tissue. Researchers are looking for a way around that. Cannabis may be the answer. However, we don’t know it’s the answer just yet.
Cancer and the Endocannabinoid System
THC and CBD are two of more than one hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. You probably recognize THC as the cannabinoid that makes marijuana users high. Both THC and CBD stimulate the human endocannabinoid system by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Why does this matter for cancer treatment?
Human cells become cancerous when they don’t follow the normal pattern of reproduction, growth, and eventual death. This natural cycle of cell reproduction and death is part of cell homeostasis. Yet cancerous cells don’t die off as they are supposed to. They continue to reproduce and spread, damaging healthy tissue along the way. Cell homeostasis doesn’t seem to have an effect on cancer cells.
It turns out that one of the many functions of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain cell homeostasis. You can read more about it in this fantastic blog post from The Cannigma. To summarize the post, it is possible that any of the cannabinoids found in a cannabis plant could theoretically help restore cell homeostasis, thereby forcing cancer cells to die off naturally. This would constitute a cure.
All Current Evidence Is Anecdotal
At the current time, there is but one cannabis-derived medication approved by the FDA to treat cancer pain and nausea. In addition, dozens of states with legal medical cannabis programs recognize cancer as a qualifying condition. However, they recognize cannabis only as a treatment to alleviate disease and treatment symptoms.
Any and all evidence in support of cannabis as an actual cancer cure is anecdotal at this point. There are no clinical studies backing up that evidence. Still, cannabis is being aggressively researched as a cancer treatment around the world. Perhaps we will know more about its effectiveness in the months and years to come.