Experimental studies in cancer treatments involving cannabis focus on two of the more than 70 cannabinoids found in the plant. The two molecules are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD). THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that can stimulate appetite and reduce nausea and vomiting, which is why some medical professionals prescribe the drug to patients undergoing cancer treatment. CBD is found at lower levels in the plant in most of the varieties found in the market because growers look to obtain the highest level of the psychoactive ingredient. However, much of the scientific research indicates that CBD also has medicinal benefits. Therefore, the cultivation and use of the ingredient have also grown in the past decade.
Studies on Cannabis as an Anticarcinogen
One important medicinal property of the cannabinoid molecule is the potential capability to cause the death of cancer cells without affecting a body’s healthy cells, providing a major difference from chemotherapy. Scientists are studying these properties and have discovered that the drug is effective in treating breast cancer, among other forms of cancer. One of the principal studies on the subject was led by Shusho Takeda from Hokuriku University. Takeda and this team found that CBDA helps suppress breast cancer cells through the inhibition of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme, known to be involved in inflammatory processes and in the metastasis of cancerous cells. CBDA is the acidic precursor to CBD. When CBDA is heated through the process of smoking, vaporizing, or decarboxylation, it is converted into CBD.
Results from publications by the US National Institutes of Health regarding preclinical studies in mice and rats suggest that cannabinoids inhibit the growth of tumors by causing the destruction of such cells and blocking the cell from multiplying. Furthermore, the molecule prevents the formation of blood vessels that tumors require for growth. Specifically, researchers conducting a laboratory study on breast cancer cells observed that CBD caused the destruction of cancerous cells while having little effect on normal cells. The conclusions in the investigation on rats in the metastatic breast cancer study indicated that the cannabinoids decreased the growth, number, and dissemination of tumors. The NIH researchers concluded the non-psychoactive CBD molecule is a promising tool as a combined therapy for breast and prostate cancer because of its direct anti-tumor effects. Furthermore, the substance has the capability to improve the efficiency of conventional anticarcinogen pharmaceuticals and can be used as a palliative treatment.
Limitations of Current Study Results
Most of the studies on the use of cannabis as a cancer treatment are laboratory experiments that do not involve a clinical element. Therefore, the results of the study are limited to the observations drawn on mice and cannot be generalized to a wider population. Furthermore, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any cannabis-related treatment for cancer, symptoms of cancer, or secondary effects. The only drugs related to marijuana that are approved by the FDA are in relation to managing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy that does not respond to the standard treatment. Furthermore, the legal barriers to handling cannabis is also a limitation. For example, testing laboratories would need a California marijuana license or similar, depending on the state and local laws.
Even though researchers have not been able to draw any scientific conclusions with respect to the results of experiments in laboratory settings that can be applied to humans, the medicinal properties of CBD are growing in popularity. This has caused women who are suffering from the condition to take the initiative and experiment with cannabis against the advice of their doctors. While far from scientific, such women have reported that the use of CBD oil has stopped metastasis and reduced inflammation and pain. However, individuals considering these options should talk to their doctors and learn about the facts about breast cancer before making any alternative treatment decisions.