The Effects of Marijuana on Cancer

Is marijuana really the miracle drug we’ve been waiting for? Or does smoking weed do more harm than good?

Cannabis and CancerSince its legalization in several countries and an increasing number of U.S. states, cannabis has been touted as a potential treatment for everything from anxiety and nausea to HIV and cancer. Scientific exploration of the relationship between marijuana and cancer is still in its infancy. But the current body of research points to exciting possibilities for cannabis as a treatment option. However, there are still so many questions to be answered. What exactly does cannabis do to cancer cells? Can it cure the disease completely? What are the risks associated with smoking weed? Can marijuana actually cause cancer? Here’s what we know, so far.

Marijuana and cancer

With no known cure, cancer afflicts millions worldwide every year, with an estimated yearly death toll over 600,000 in the United States alone. Preliminary research shows cannabis may be able to help fight the disease. At the very least, there is considerable evidence that cannabis can alleviate many of the side effects of cancer and popular treatments such as chemotherapy.

So far, most of the research on cannabis and cancer cells has isolated and examined the effects of one or more of the plant’s specific chemical compounds, including the well-known cannabinoids THC and CBD. However, marijuana is a chemically complex plant and a wide variety of strains exist. It’s actually possible that the synergy and potentiation of these compounds could be greater when using whole-plant extracts over isolated cannabinoids. This is sometimes known as the “entourage effect”.

Since marijuana has been illegal in the United States since the 1930s, studies examining its medicinal properties have been limited. However, now that a growing number of U.S. states permit doctors to prescribe marijuana for treatment of select conditions, we can expect to see increased research. At this point, most research on cannabis and cancer has been done in laboratories, using either mice, or cells in petri dishes as subjects. Very few long-term studies have been done on actual humans.

According to the National Cancer Institute, clinical trials of cannabinoid-based treatments have shown them to be effective at alleviating many of the grueling side effects of popular anti-cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Chemo patients typically suffer from nausea and vomiting and may also develop cachexia, or wasting syndrome – an unintentional loss of weight, often from lean muscle as well as fat. This condition can lead to further complications such as fatigue and loss of motor function. Not only can it keep nausea at bay, but marijuana can increase one’s appetite, perhaps helping cancer patients avoid developing cachexia. Cannabis can also be an effective analgesic (pain reliever) against neuropathy – pain from nerve damage that sometimes occurs as a result of chemotherapy. Marijuana also can reduce symptoms of anxiety, which can make the entire experience of fighting cancer a little more bearable.

Q: How does marijuana help cancer?
A: Cannabis alleviates many of the unpleasant side effects of cancer and its popular treatment options. It also appears to inhibit the further spread of cancer and to help the body fight the disease by enhancing the efficacy of popular treatments like chemotherapy.

Does marijuana cure cancer?

At the time of this writing, there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana can cure cancer on its own. Studies suggest that certain cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in marijuana) may be able to slow the growth of cancer, as well as provide significant relief from symptoms associated with the disease. It also appears that CBD and THC can dramatically increase the efficacy of medical cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Pure infusions of both THC and CBD have been shown in separate lab studies to single out and kill malignant cancer cells. More research is needed to determine if these results can be replicated in human bodies.

Q: Does marijuana cure cancer?
A: There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana cures cancer – which is generally defined as 5 years with no sign of cancer present. Marijuana does appear to inhibit the spread of cancer and to enhance the effects of medical anti-cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

Cannabis cancer treatments

There are currently a wide variety of cannabis options for cancer treatment. Medical marijuana for cancer patients is available in a growing number of countries and U.S. states. Products made with only cannabidiol (CBD), are legal in all 50 U.S. states. CBD does not have psychoactive qualities, so it is generally not classified as “marijuana.” CBD may be naturally extracted or synthetic, and both varieties appear to have a similar effect on the body.

● Smoking or vaporizing

Smoking or vaporizing weed is the most common method of use, and also the fastest to take effect. The cannabinoids pass quickly from the lungs into the bloodstream, bringing users near-immediate relief. Medical marijuana is often prescribed in a smokable form.

● Edibles

For people who want to avoid the adverse effects of smoking, or who already have compromised lungs, marijuana edibles can be a good alternate. While brownies may be the first thing that comes to mind here, cannabis can actually be cooked into nearly anything you can imagine. Hard candies, gummies, and even pills are other popular options, and some medical marijuana dispensaries do offer these types of edibles. If you live somewhere where marijuana is still illegal, CBD infused candies or other edibles are still an option.

Edibles take effect more slowly, generally in anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more, with the effects typically peaking around the 2-hour mark. They also tend to stay in your system longer. The cannabinoids process differently in the stomach, and the effects can be much stronger. It’s wise to start slowly if you are new to taking edibles because it’s easy to take too much without realizing it until hours later.

● Oils

Cannabis oil, widely known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) or hemp oil, is an essential oil derived from the marijuana plant. RSO takes its nickname from a Canadian engineer who claims to have used it to cure the skin cancer he developed while working with asbestos and other hazardous materials. Simpson made his own cannabis oil, applied it directly to his affected skin, and observed the absence of the cancerous growths after only 4 days. He then made it his personal mission to make and distribute this oil to cancer patients at no cost, despite the fact that it was still illegal at that time.

There is no scientific proof that cannabis oil can cure cancer via topical use or ingestion, but it is a popular choice for many cancer patients today, perhaps drawing inspiration from Rick Simpson’s story. Simpson’s recipes for making your own RSO can be easily found on the internet. And many dispensaries do carry RSO or other cannabis-derived oils. CBD oil is an option for those who cannot obtain or use RSO, which does contain THC.

● Tinctures and sprays

If neither smoking nor edibles feel right for you, these quick-acting alternatives may. Marijuana tinctures contain an extract of the plant suspended in alcohol or another solvent. A few drops are taken under the tongue and they quickly absorb into the bloodstream. It generally takes around 15 minutes to feel the full effects. Marijuana sprays essentially work the same way.

● Topical creams

There are a variety of cannabis creams, lotions, and oils that can be directly applied to sore or painful spots on the body, providing fast-acting relief. These can often be found at medical marijuana dispensaries. CBD-only options are available.

● Patches

Another delivery option is cannabis patches. As with most delivery methods of medical marijuana, there are CBD-only patches for those who want to avoid the psychotropic effects of THC or live where it is not yet legal. The patch is applied to the skin (like a band-aid) and cannabinoids are released through the skin, directly into the bloodstream, at a steady pace, over 8-12 hours.

Medical marijuana for cancer

31 of the 32 U.S. states that legally allow prescriptions of medical marijuana consider cancer to be a qualifying condition. Maryland is the current exception. In New Jersey, only terminal cancer specifically qualifies for medical marijuana. However, in both New Jersey and Maryland, several common cancer side effects, including nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, and wasting syndrome each qualify on their own. Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada, and Australia also allow cannabis to be prescribed for cancer. As the legal environment surrounding marijuana continues to become more favorable, we will likely see more states and countries approving medical marijuana.
Cannabis and Cancer

Does smoking weed cause cancer?

At this point in time, there is no definitive evidence that smoking marijuana causes cancer. However, the studies that have been done indicate that marijuana smoke may be just as detrimental to the lungs (and possibly more so) than cigarette smoke. Secondhand marijuana smoke has not yet been studied but may pose a comparable risk to secondhand cigarette smoke for those exposed to it.

A 2000 study found higher rates of head and neck cancer (including cancers of the the mouth, tongue, throat, and voice box) among those who had regularly smoked marijuana. The study also showed that marijuana smokers with a specific genetic defect developed dramatically higher rates of these cancers.

There is no evidence suggesting that using marijuana contributes to the onset of any cancers not directly related to the act of smoking.

Q: Does smoking weed cause cancer?
A: While a direct link between smoking weed and cancer has not been proven, research suggests a strong connection between smoking marijuana and the development of lung cancer, as well as various cancers of the head and neck.

Marijuana and lung cancer

There still has not been enough research done to prove that smoking marijuana causes lung cancer. The studies that have been done suggest that it does increase your odds of contracting the disease. However, marijuana in non-smokable forms may actually be an effective treatment for lung cancer.

Can you get lung cancer from smoking weed?

Research suggests that smoking marijuana does increase the risk of contracting lung cancer – in addition to chronic bronchitis and increased susceptibility to lung infections for immune-compromised people.

Exposure to all types of smoke, whether from smoking weed or tobacco, or even from burning wood, can damage the lungs. The combustion process produces ash and tar, and also prompts the release of various toxins and carcinogens into the lungs and the surrounding air. Despite the fact that marijuana doesn’t contain many of the harmful additives cigarettes do (such as nicotine, a highly addictive chemical compound in the tobacco plant), the simple act of smoking it may be enough to lead to lung cancer. Marijuana smokers typically inhale and hold longer, deeper breaths, exposing the lungs to more of the smoke and its by-products.

There isn’t enough evidence to determine if vaporizing (“vaping”) marijuana has the potential to cause lung cancer. Some studies suggest vaping is much gentler on the lungs, but conclusive research has been scarce. The reasoning is that the cannabis oil in a vaporizer is heated instead of burned, effectively bypassing the combustion process and its release of toxic chemicals into the lungs.

Q: Can you get lung cancer from smoking weed?
A: Research suggests that marijuana smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers. Marijuana smoke (like any other type) contains toxins and carcinogens, that can harm the lungs, potentially leading to lung cancer when regularly inhaled.

Can you treat lung cancer with cannabis?

The good news is that yes, you can treat lung cancer with cannabis. It actually appears that lung cancer responds particularly well to marijuana-based treatment, as a  2010 study indicated that lung cancer cells may actually have more cannabinoid receptors than other types of cancer cells. Current research does not indicate that cannabis can cure this or any other type of cancer. In most lung cancer cases, smoking or vaping marijuana is unlikely to be recommended, so as not to exacerbate the current condition. But edibles, oils, tinctures, and topical marijuana products are all possible complementary treatment options.

CBD and cancer

CBD (cannabidiol), both naturally derived and synthetic, is legal in all 50 states, even those where marijuana is not. CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that its users won’t experience the “high” associated with marijuana products containing THC. Studies have shown that CBD’s benefits include:

  • effective pain relief
  • reduced nausea and increased hunger,
  • Mood stabilization and alleviation of symptoms of depression

Not only can CBD help in treating the effects of cancer and its popular treatment options, but it may potentially slow the growth of cancer cells and enhance other anti-cancer treatments. A 2013 study on mice with pancreatic cancer showed that those who were treated with CBD alongside chemotherapy had a tripled rate of survival. CBD also may actually help “swtich off” the “ID-1 gene,” which activates following the onset of dozens of aggressive types of cancer, allowing malignant cells to quickly spread. CBD may also have the ability to induce the death of cancerous cells.

THC and cancer

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) also has the potential to be an effective cancer treatment. Several studies of THC used on advanced brain cancer cells show that it appears to prevent cancer from spreading, shrink tumors, and also may induce the death of cancerous cells. THC also appears to enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

Studies specifically on the effect of THC on hormone-driven breast cancer cells (both in petri dishes and on live mice) showed that the whole-plant extracts containing THC were more effective than the isolated cannabinoid, and also appeared to enhance the efficacy of the popular chemotherapy drug, tamoxifen, by as much as 25%.

CBD vs. THC for cancer

It actually appears that the CBD and THC used in combination may have a stronger effect on cancer than either one separately. Both have the potential to kill cancer cells as well as to inhibit them from further growth. A 2010 study in the UK found that cancer patients experienced a greater reduction in pain when treated with an extract containing CBD and THC, than those treated with THC alone. The dual-cannabinoid treatment was found to be effective for many patients who did not find adequate pain relief in opioid medications they were prescribed.

CBD may be preferable for those who do not want to experience the psychotropic effects of THC or who live in regions where marijuana is still illegal. At this point, there is not enough conclusive research showing either cannabinoid to be consistently better at fighting the effects of cancer than the other.

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