Does cannabis cure cancer? No, but it might make drugs that can.

cannabis cure cancer

Sorry, folks. The answer to the age-old question ” does cannabis cure cancer ” is no. There is no evidence that cannabis cures cancer, in practice. Don’t get it wrong…the research is very promising in specific scenarios, but jumping to conclusions and making grand-sweeping claims like “cure” can be misleading, especially for patients weighing their treatment options.

However, cannabis components, already tapped to help prevent nausea and vomiting; improve appetite; and dampen the effects of anxiety, depression and pain in cancer patients, could be deployed directly against tumors. Preliminary research showing cannabinoids kill, stunt and prevent the spread of multiple types of cancer in multiple ways is exciting.

One of the most powerful studies to date, though it’s still relatively small and doesn’t provide any data that proves causation, showed that 92 percent of 119 people with various cancers showed more improvement in cancer outcomes when administered pharmaceutical grade cannabidiol (CBD) versus patients who weren’t. Meaning the CBD patients showed “a reduction in circulating tumour cells in many cases and in other cases, a reduction in tumor size, as shown by repeat scans,” according to the 2018 article in the journal Anticancer Research.

Does cannabis cure cancer? This table from the Anticancer Research study on CBD for cancer treatment shows the different cancers, treatments, and outcomes for 119 study participants. Visit Anticancer Research for a full description.

It’s important to note that the CBD was administered in addition to the standard chemotherapy/radiation treatment courses for the diseases, so it isn’t clear the extent of the effects of CBD specifically. But it definitely means CBD could be a goldmine of discovery for anti-cancer drugs. All it needs is more tests with bigger sample sizes and specific targeting of cannabinoid compounds.

Pharmaceutical-grade synthetic cannabidiol is a candidate for treating breast cancer and glioma patients,” the study states.

Does cannabis cure cancer? Is weed a cancer ‘silver bullet?’

Despite all the phony articles and snake oil sales pitches out there, cancer continues to be a group of different diseases, affecting different organs of people in different demographics, all governed by different mechanisms and causes, most of which are still poorly understood.

a sampling of cancer cells
Does cannabis cure cancer? It can certainly kill cancer cells of all different types…in a Petri dish. That’s a lot different than selectively killing those cells in a human body, though.

Because of the nature of cancer, it’s nearly impossible that some cure-all substance of any kind is out there. But, despite all the hype and fake news, components of marijuana, including the most powerful cannabinoids Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), have shown great potential in killing cancer cells both in cancerous lab animals and in the petri dish. Clinical trials to study adding cannabinoids to chemotherapy regimens in humans on a large scale aren’t underway yet, but research is ramping up as states and nations around the Western world continue the march toward legalization, making the plant easier to obtain and study.

Though researchers haven’t found the fire yet, there’s certainly a bunch of smoke.

How close are we to cannabis-based chemotherapy?

The answer is much closer than before the U.S. and Canadian wave of legalization that ramped up in the 2010s, but still far from testing in human cancer patients. The following is a rundown of the most notable studies showing the tumor growth inhibition and tumor-killing actions of various cannabinoids. The National Cancer Institute organized the highlights of these studies and keeps the article up to date on the cannabis info section of the website.

Cancer Prevention

A number of studies have shown rats force-fed THC had a significantly reduced rate of certain types of liver cancer compared with a control group. Further study showed THC administration came with a reduced risk in rodents of precancerous polyps and benign tumors of the mammary gland, uterus, pituitary, testis, and pancreas.

THC also beat back the growth of a type of lung cancer called Lewis adenocarcinoma, both in rats and in the petri dish.

Cancer Killing

Cannabis components seem to attack cancer cells through various mechanisms, which pharma researchers have outlined in a few major studies on the mechanisms of cannabinoids interaction with cancer cells.

“Cannabinoids may cause antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis (blood supply), invasion and metastasis,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

“Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death.”

These images, courtesy of Anticancer Research, show a patient with a brain tumor that shrunk with CBD treatment over the course of the year 2016. Does this provide an answer to the question “does cannabis cure cancer?”. It’s only a small bit of evidence.

This has been noted in multiple studies, including one in which cannabinoid preparations killed off brain tumor cells in rats.

The fact that marijuana components seem to protect healthy cells while targeting cancer cells, producing almost no serious side effects, is probably the most exciting aspect of this research.

CBD and colon cancer

Not only does CBD kill and inhibit growth of breast cancer cells in a petri dish while leaving healthy mammary tissues unaffected, it seems to be a real powerhouse against colon cancer.

CBD given to rats with precancerous lesions reduced the number and severity of those lesions, and it seemed to both kill colon cancer cells in the rats and prevent them from spreading, especially when combined with an established chemotherapy agent.

“In addition, both plant-derived and endogenous cannabinoids have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects,” according to the NCI. “As a result, a hypothesis that phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids may be useful in the risk reduction and treatment of colorectal cancer has been developed.”

Where did the myth of the cannabis cancer cure-all come from?

Many cannabis-focussed and medical journalists, in general, are either bad at reading scientific studies, are just looking for a punchy headline, or have a legalization agenda untethered to facts. As a result, the potential for marijuana as a “cure for cancer” has been wildly overblown.

The irresponsible and misleading coverage of real cannabis cancer research has metastasized with the help of hopeful patients and their families and the conspiracy-minded who see a dark plot by Big Pharma to quash research in the name of profit.

Big Pharma is involved in plenty of dark plots — even ones aimed at keeping cannabis illegal, as we’ve reported here at WoahStork — but hiding cannabis as a silver-bullet cancer cure isn’t one of them.

Aside from grasping for hope, a big reason people jump to conclusions about cancer research into marijuana is a misunderstanding of how cancer works in the body. Most people aren’t familiar with how difficult it is to deliver drugs to cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed.

Take Home Point: Just because a substance can kill cancer cells in a petri dish or in mice doesn’t mean it will in a living human with cancer.

Or, if it does work, the side effects themselves may be too dangerous to consider a substance for cancer treatment in humans. Researchers have to tinker and test delivery methods, drug combinations and dosages, sometimes for decades, before that research proves fruitful. Simply put: it’s complicated.

“Killing cancer cells is not that hard,” points out an article in Stanford’s Cancer Roundhouse.

“A little household bleach will annihilate the worst cancer doctors have ever encountered. But of course you can’t treat cancer with bleach. The trick to all cancer treatments is to harass, inhibit, contain, cut out, beat down and, you hope, kill cancer cells while simultaneously doing as little harm as possible to normal cells in the body. This is especially hard because cancer cells and normal cells are so closely related.”

Mike Adams, one of the journalists who inadvertently helped spread the idea that cannabis is cure-all for colon cancer through a High Times interview he did, wrote a mea culpa in Forbes magazine apologizing for the false hope he fostered.

cannabis cure cancer
Does cannabis cure cancer? Journalist Mike Adams used to think so, but has dialed back his original claims.

Adams wrote an in-depth interview in which a popular Hollywood stuntman outlined why he was convinced cannabis oil was curing his colon cancer. Adams says he, too, was convinced and wrote the article accordingly. Subsequent to its publication, Adams fielded hundreds of calls from hopeful patients that he forwarded to the subject of his article. This is really what got people asking the question in forums across the internet: does cannabis cure cancer?

The problem is, that stuntman died of his disease in 2017, despite the cannabis treatment he had so much faith in.

“Sometimes I’m riddled with guilt because I fear that, while it was unintentional, I may have given dozens of families false hope – convincing them that cannabis was the key to a long, cancer-free life,” Adams writes. “I still don’t feel right about that.”

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About Adam Townsend 52 Articles
Adam Maxwell Townsend has been a journalist for 15 years. His reporting has covered science, technology and medicine. Currently, he edits and writes medical and pharmaceutical articles for consumer websites, including WoahStork.

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