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, but even so, there are many individuals who believe in using cannabis medicinally in various forms to counteract the devastating symptoms of various medical conditions, including cancer.
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 flip side, 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.
Read more about how medicinal marijuana/cannabis is administered, possible side-effects and risks etc., on our static Complementary & Alternative Therapies page, Cannabis & Cannabinoids (Marijuana)
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.