by Patricia Frye, M.D.
Cannabis, which is the scientific name for the marijuana plant, has long been known to alleviate many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with cancer treatment. It can lessen nausea and vomiting, stimulate appetite, relieve pain, increase energy, reduce anxiety, elevate mood and promote restful, restorative sleep. Many patients who have had to undergo several chemotherapy rounds marvel at how much better they felt when they used cannabis during their treatment—with or without psychoactivity.
What is also remarkable about the plant is its ability to decrease and sometimes prevent chemotherapy and radiation-induced neuropathy. In addition, many anecdotal cases have been reported, documenting prolonged length of life, and in some patients, eradication of the disease with the use of cannabis.
Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cellular growth and its ability to invade other tissues. This unregulated growth is the result of mutations caused by damaged DNA, cell cycle defects and inadequate apoptosis. Cells mutate all the time. What differentiates a person who develops cancer from one who does not is the ability of the patient’s immune system to eliminate potentially malignant cells before they have time to grow, invade and metastasize.
Cells die either because of necrosis or apoptosis. Apoptosis is a programmable, organized cellular death that occurs within the body and nucleus of the cell. Necrosis occurs from external damage—toxins, lack of blood supply or infection. Cellular death by necrosis causes inflammation that can precipitate further damage to the body—thus some of the complications associated with chemo and radiation.
Apoptosis is referred to as cellular suicide. It is a cleaner cellular death that lacks the pro-inflammatory cellular debris caused by necrosis. When there is insufficient apoptosis, mutant cells are left unchecked and continue to grow into malignant, invasive tumors.
There are approximately 400 different compounds in cannabis. Of those, there are as many as 80 phytocannabinoids—substances only found in the cannabis plant. There are also various terpenes and flavonoids, which are substances found throughout nature that give plants their aromatic and medicinal benefits. These compounds all contribute to the cannabis plant’s medicinal benefits and its ability to target malignant cells and cause them to self-destruct by means of increasing apoptosis. The four major phytocannabinoids are CBD, THC, CBDA, and THCA and they all have anti-tumor activity by increasing apoptosis. They are also potent anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories which may add to their anti-tumor effects.
As early as the 1970s, animal studies found that cannabinoids increase apoptosis and inhibit tumor growth in lymphomas, breast cancer, prostate cancer, certain brain tumors like gliomas and neuroblastomas, as well as certain lung, liver, skin and pancreatic malignancies. A 2016 South African study showed a significant increase in apoptosis with an isolated Cannabidiol (CBD) extract in four types of cervical cancer.
CBD, the major non-psychoactive cannabinoid, not only inhibits tumor growth by increasing apoptosis, it also impedes metastasis by interfering with cell migration and adhesion. In addition, it can interrupt the tumor’s ability to create blood vessels. Without a blood supply, the tumor is unable to feed itself and can’t grow.
There are hundreds of in vitro and animal studies showing the effects of cannabis on certain tumors. Unfortunately, cannabis’ federal scheduling status impedes our ability to research cannabis on humans, and not everything that occurs in the laboratory translates predictably from mice to man. So, we don’t know exactly which of these cannabinoid substances, the amounts, nor in which combinations, are needed to eliminate certain cancers or why it is able to eradicate cancer in some patients and not others.
Cannabis therapy for cancer is not Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved or regulated. It obviously does not cure cancer in every patient who uses it and should not be sought after as the only means of treating cancer, especially one that is curable by conventional therapy. It is, however, a safe, natural and effective way of preventing and treating many side effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation and it just might help in the eradication of malignant cells and tumors.
Patricia C. Frye, M.D. is the founder of Takoma Alternative Care, located at 6930 Carroll Ave., Ste. 502, Takoma Park, MD. For more information, call 301-328-3045 or visit TakomaCare.com.