Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a plant from Central Asia that is grown in many parts of the world today. The Cannabis plant produces a resin containing compounds called cannabinoids. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive (acting on the brain and changing mood or consciousness). The use, sale, and possession of Cannabis (marijuana) is illegal in most countries.
Cannabinoids are active chemicals in Cannabis that act on certain receptors on cells in our body, especially cells in the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, which work together to control all the functions of the body; they are also known as phytocannabinoids.
The main active cannabinoid in Cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Another active cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD).
A History of the Medical Use of Cannabis
The use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient times, but only came into use in Western medicine in the 19th century.
In 1937, the U.S. Treasury began taxing Cannabis under the Marijuana Tax Act at one dollar per ounce for medicinal use and one hundred dollars per ounce for recreational use.
The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed this regulation of Cannabis and did not want studies of its potential medicinal benefits to be limited.
In 1942, Cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia because of continuing concerns about its safety. In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which included Cannabis with narcotic drugs for the first time.
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, mescaline, methaqualone, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB).
Although Cannabis was not believed to have any medicinal use, the U.S. government distributed it to patients on a case-by-case basis under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug (IND) program between 1978 and 1992.
In the past 20 years, researchers have studied how cannabinoids act on the brain and other parts of the body. Cannabinoid receptors (molecules that bind cannabinoids) have been discovered in brain cells and nerve cells in other parts of the body. The presence of cannabinoid receptors on immune system cells suggests that cannabinoids may have a role in immunity.
The discussions, beliefs and oft arguments regarding medicinal use of marijuana have been ongoing for years, with many individuals being of the opinion that marijuana is just a drug and has no medicinal use whatsoever, including many governments and scientific/pharmaceutical organisations.
On the flipside, there are just as many organisations, individuals and research studies that argue that marijuana does have medicinal value and that it was originally, and still is in many countries, only outlawed because of monetary gain…
Strangely enough, even in countries like Canada, and until recently U.S.A. where marijuana is largely illegal, the government has still allowed use of “medical marijuana” in what seems to be somewhat of a contradiction.
While research is still ongoing into the use of marijuana for various diseases and health conditions, many largely agree that cannabinoids can help with some symptoms and side effects and drugs containing cannabinoids have actually been developed to treat pain, nausea and vomiting.
Several studies have shown that the use of marijuana for medical purposes in various forms such as dried marijuana, marijuana oil, or fresh marijuana buds or leaves that can be smoked, vaporised, eaten in food or drunk in a tea can help for diseases such as cancer:
- Relieving Symptoms and Side Effects: Medical marijuana can relieve symptoms and side effects of cancer and the various treatments for cancer. Using medical marijuana, drugs containing cannabinoids or both may help you relax and give you a sense of well-being.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both. These are side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These include drugs containing cannabinoids as well as some trials done on inhaled cannabis.
- Loss of Appetite: Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with cancer. Loss of appetite and weight loss (which is called cachexia when it is severe) often occur together. Some individuals find that medical marijuana can increase their appetite.
Pain: Some people find that medical marijuana can help relieve long-term (chronic) or severe pain. Some clinical trials showed that cannabinoids help reduce pain in some people. Cannabinoids have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects that may play a role in pain relief.
A study of a whole-plant extract of Cannabis that contained specific amounts of cannabinoids, which was sprayed under the tongue, found it was effective in patients with advanced cancer whose pain was not relieved by strong opoids alone.
Patients who received the lower doses of cannabinoid spray showed markedly better pain control and less sleep loss compared with patients who received a placebo. Results showed that, for some patients, control of their cancer-related pain continued without needing higher doses of spray or higher doses of their other pain medicine.
- Anxiety and sleep: A small case series found that patients who inhaled marijuana had improved mood, improved sense of well-being, and less anxiety.
A trial of a whole-plant extract of Cannabis that contained specific amounts of cannabinoids, which was sprayed under the tongue, found that patients had improved sleep quality.
- Antitumor Activity: Various studies have shown that cannabinoids may inhibit tumour growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumours to grow.
A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in oestrogen receptor positive and oestrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells
A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in human glioma cells showed that when given along with chemotherapy, CBD may make chemotherapy more effective and increase cancer cell death without harming normal cells.
How is Cannabis Administered?
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when using medical cannabis was a very simple process – patients would either smoke a joint or ingest an edible. Neither was conducive to accurate and clean dosing. Today, science and industry have vastly expanded the quality and quantity of choices.
With legalisation taking place in more countries and a broader acceptance of cannabis, more researchers are devoting resources to understanding and improving cannabis medicine. With this increased effort, new technology and options are becoming available to patients.
Not everyone likes to smoke, and those with compromised lung health may not have the option; smoking has also become extremely stigmatised, but fortunately there are many methods of administering medical cannabis, so you have various options can make use of the method which best works for you:
Smoking Medical Cannabis
Historically, the most traditional form of ingestion is smoking the dried flowers or leaves of the cannabis plant. Cannabis can be smoked through a pipe, rolled into a cigarette, or smoked using a water pipe (bong).
For most patients, the effects of smoking dried cannabis are felt almost immediately, but soon begin to diminish. Depending on the individual patient, and the cannabinoid content and potency of the cannabis strain, effects wear off almost completely within 90 minutes to 4 hours.
Vaporising Medical Cannabis
Vaporisation is an effective way to deliver the therapeutic components of marijuana without the toxic by-products of combustion.
A vaporiser is a device that is able to extract the therapeutic ingredients in the cannabis plant material, called cannabinoids, at a much lower temperature than required for burning. This allows patients to inhale the active ingredients as a vapour instead of smoke, and spares them the irritating and harmful effects of smoking.
The taste of vaporised cannabis is often preferred to that of combusted flower, and the vapour is much easier on the lungs, which is why vaporising is the non-smoked method most often recommended as an alternative to smoking as people with cancer can utilise this method for most of the symptoms/conditions for which marijuana is recommended.
Larger table-top vaporizers can offer high-quality vapour with advanced temperature settings, while small hand-held devices let you enjoy cannabis flower or oils wherever you go.
Edible Medical Cannabis
Many individuals prefer to ingest medical marijuana by eating or drinking it because edibles bypass all the lung irritations and sore throats generally associated with inhaling cannabis smoke.
In the past, edible marijuana was largely limited to homemade brownies that mostly just tasted weird, but these days edibles come in the form of cookies, candies, power bars, popcorn, crackers, nut mixes, lollipops, ice cream, gummy bears, chocolate bars, chews, and more because culinary science has evolved enough that these products taste great and one can hardly tell that they contain cannabis.
Edibles, as they are typically called, usually take longer to take effect than smoking or
vaporizing, often 20 minutes to an hour or more. Doses can be difficult to judge, so it is recommended that you eat only a small portion of edible medical cannabis at a time; wait at least an hour to assess its effects so you do not over-medicate. Edible herbal medicine will kick in significantly faster if eaten on an empty stomach.
In general, the therapeutic effects from eating cannabis last much longer than other consumption methods, often up to four hours or more, and then slowly begin to wear off. Many patients report that this method provides more of a relaxing body effect than the cerebral high that is often accompanied with vaporising and smoking cannabis.
While many commercial outlets now sell cannabis-infused products in countries where it is legal, it is actually quite simple to infuse virtually anything that calls for butter or oil yourself.
Medical Marijuana Can Be Prepared For Cooking in Two Ways:
- Pulverised into a powder called Canna Flour
- Extracted into a fat or oil, commonly called Canna Butter.
Medical Cannabis Butter or Cooking Oil
Cannabis flowered tops and leaves are simmered in butter (or vegetable oil) for several hours, transferring the THC and other cannabinoids to the butter. The solid plant material is then discarded. The butter, now a dark shade of green, is then used in baking such items as brownies and cakes, or added to such foods as spaghetti sauce or soup. The oily base of the butter is needed for the cannabinoids to properly adhere.
This method is utilised by many patients suffering from pain and spasticity, and sometimes, sleep disorders. Although not the preferred method for patients suffering from nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite, it is sometimes used to supplement their other delivery methods, or used by those unable or unwilling to smoke or use a vaporiser.
Medical Cannabis Drinks
Many individuals with cancer prefer drinking medical cannabis – this can be achieved by mixing raw leaves
and buds into a juice or making a smoothie with them.
Cannabinoids are not water soluble; making drinkable medical marijuana is therefore not a simple matter of brewing up a tea. Medical Marijuana drinks are most often either alcohol or milk (fat) based. Cannabinoids are extracted into alcohol by steeping the plant material in a high proof alcohol for several days. Remember to always consult your physician before consuming alcoholic beverages.
Medical marijuana milk is called “Bhang.”
To make it: warm a litre of milk over low heat. Let the milk come to a very slow boil and add around 7 grams of medical marijuana. Immediately reduce heat and let it gently simmer for a bit. Stir and don’t let it scorch!!!!
You can also make your own cannabis tea by steeping a bud, a piece of cannabis infused wax, or cannabis tincture in hot water.
Adding a bag of your favourite tea can improve its flavour.
Ingestible oils are basically any cannabis concentrate that is taken orally. These most commonly come in capsules or plastic applicators, either of which can be consumed directly or added to food or drink. Like edibles, ingestible oils can induce powerful effects that take a while to kick in, so be mindful of your dose!
Cannabis flowered tops and leaves are filtered into its oils via a method using butane gas. Some patients may create weaker oil using a “supercritical carbon dioxide extraction.” The oil can then be inhaled using a pipe or vaporiser, directly added to foods or liquids, or for some conditions applied directly to the skin.
This type of oil can be used for most symptoms for which cannabis is recommended, and the patient can choose whether to inhale for quick relief, or add to liquids or foods for different results.
Medical Cannabis Dabbing
Dabbing is a method of flash-vaporisation in which cannabis concentrates are dropped on a heated water-pipe attachment and inhaled for intensely potent effects. The delivery devices vary, but they tend to be complicated and usually involve the use of a butane torch. Also, concentrates can contain as much as 90 percent THC, so you will get a very high dose of psychoactive compounds.
This method is NOT recommended for patients with a low THC tolerance or those new to cannabis medications!
Medical Cannabis Transdermal Patches
A transdermal cannabis patch is similar to other pharmaceutical patches, (such as transdermal hormone patches). By ‘carrying’ molecules through the skin, the patch allows for an accurate dose of cannabinoids to be delivered directly to the bloodstream.
Users report that the effects are felt rapidly, often within 15 – 60 minutes and last up to 12 hours. Transdermal delivery allows for higher bioavailability than many other options since it avoids first pass metabolism, which wastes a significant percentage of traditionally ingested cannabis through absorption by the liver.
Medical Cannabis Tinctures & Tonics
A tincture is a concentrated form of medical cannabis in an alcohol solution.
The tincture is then used in various ways; added to foods and liquids, applied to the skin, or the patient consumes directly by drinking a small quantity or placing a few drops under the tongue (sublingual).
Tinctures are highly concentrated and unlike ingestible oils and infused foods, they enter the bloodstream immediately, allowing for fast-acting effects and better dose control.
Just the same, start out small and wait to feel the effects before adding more.
A tonic, on the other hand, is very similar to a tincture, but is designed to be drunk. Some individuals mix it with a fruit drink to mask the bitter taste.
Medical Cannabis Topicals
Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions and balms that are applied directly to the skin or muscles for localised relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation. Topicals include lotions, salves, balms, sprays, oils, and creams. However, unlike smoking, vaporising or eating the medical cannabis, topicals are completely non-psychoactive—you could take a bath in them, and never get high.
Medical Cannabis Capsules and Sprays
Cannabis capsules are often soft gel (gelatine) capsules containing medical cannabis oil and are great for reliable dosing.
Pills and capsules may produce analgesic effects for longer without the health risks that go with smoking.
There are also cannabis sprays available that one can spray under the tongue.
They are often a combination of cannabis oil and premium coconut oil to improve absorption.
Effects should be noticeable in 3 to 10 minutes, and usually last 1–2 hours, although the intoxicating effects may be delayed by up to two hours, so it is best to wait before spraying again.
Medical Cannabis Suppositories
Medical Cannabis Suppositories are usually a small cone-shaped mass of cannabis extract that is inserted into the rectum like any other suppository, and is absorbed through the colon. Medical marijuana suppositories are well suited for patients who are unable to eat or smoke medical marijuana. This method is somewhat controversial and rather less dignified than other ways to medicate, but some patients swear by it.
Hemp for Cancer
While there is no scientific evidence that says that hemp can definitely can cure cancer, hemp oil does provide the body with certain benefits that may help the body recover from cancer.
Hemp shares many of the properties of marijuana, namely the existence of certain chemical compounds called cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD) but with minimal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is what gives one a “high.”
While no Medical Council has ever approved it, many Cancer Survivors will swear by hemp oil as a cure for cancer.
The most renowned form of oil is most probably that first devised by Canadian cannabis pioneer Rick Simpson, known as Simpson Oil or Phoenix Tears.
Side Effects or Risks
Using marijuana may cause these and other side effects:
- problems with memory and concentration
- sensory changes, including a lack of balance and slower reaction times
- dry mouth
- rapid heart beat
- a rise in blood pressure
Interesting previous articles of ours to read about Cannabis & Cannabinoids; Medical Marijuana; Cannabis Oil and more, including personal recommendations and research articles:
Further Reading on Medical Marijuana Use & Research:
- When Weed Is The Cure: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana
- Cancer Research UK
- Constance Pure Botanical Extracts
- Can Marijuana Prevent Cancer?
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.
LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.