Cancer And Cannabis: The Good, The Bad, And The Confusing

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Marijuana is an excellent topic if you’re in the mood to spark debate. Feelings toward the drug have softened since 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act made all types of cannabis use illegal in the United States, but whether or not it should be illegal is still hotly debated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that cannabidol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis plants, is non-addictive and non-toxic, and should not be considered a drug. They found that CBD can be used in the treatment of epilepsy and other serious health conditions and that CBD does not have psychoactive properties.

So why is it not widely available? Well, like most things related to marijuana, it’s complicated.

What’s in a name?

While marijuana has a host of nicknames that all essentially mean the same thing, the terms cannabis and marijuana are not synonymous. Marijuana is made from the seeds, leaves, and flowers of certain cannabis plants. Cannabis refers to a family of plants, and medical marijuana is usually made from a hybrid of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. Cannabis varieties vary greatly in terms of psychoactive properties and practical uses.

The term cannabinoid refers to the compounds found in cannabis plants. CBD and THC are the most talked about cannabinoids in cannabis, and both have potential to aid with various medical conditions. The amount of CBD and THC varies in different types of cannabis.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. THC causes the happy feeling and coordination impairment associated with marijuana use. THC may also cause hallucinations, anxiety attacks, and/or short-term memory impairment. Positive effects may include dopamine release, pain relief, nausea prevention and relief, sedation, and even weight loss.

Cannabinoids and Cancer Treatment: A Little Background

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years; scientist even theorize that a 2,500-year-old mummy found in Siberia used cannabis as a treatment for breast cancer. And truth be told, cannabinoids are used in cancer treatment today. The drugs Dronabinol and Nabilone are used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and both contain cannabinoids.

There have been studies that report that cannabinoids can slow the growth of or even kill certain cancer cells. A 2014 journal article in Oncotarget on the effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells concluded that, “The administration of single cannabinoids might produce limited relief compared to the administration of crude extract of plant containing multiple cannabinoids… Thus, combination of cannabinoids with other chemotherapeutic drugs might provide a potent clinical outcome, reduce toxicity, increase specificity and overcome drug resistance complications.”

The article noted that more studies are needed, which is consistent with the feelings of the American Cancer Society. We should note that the American Cancer Society has not taken a position on the legalization of medical marijuana as they feel more research is needed.

Marijuana Use for Cancer Treatment

While the health claims of marijuana use for medical purposes vary greatly, most sources agree that there are some benefits associated with its use for those going through cancer treatment. Some studies have even found that certain cannabinoids may slow the growth of cancer cells.

But cannabis derivatives, namely marijuana, are probably best known as an option for the treatment of cancer symptoms. Studies have shown that marijuana can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and reduce nausea and vomiting. It may also improve appetite. Medical claims about the benefits of marijuana vary greatly, so of course it’s best to talk to your doctor about the legal options in your area—legality will also vary greatly from state to state.

And while there is a large body of evidence showing the benefits of cannabinoids in cancer treatment, it would be remiss not to mention the potential dangers.

“NEXT” for drawbacks of marijuana use and legal issues

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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