Can Cannabis Help with Cancer?

Stephen Andrews
18 Nov 2022

Medical research continues to show the therapeutic and health benefits of Cannabis. Studies have found that inhaled cannabis (smoked or vaped) can help treat neuropathic pain, which is pain caused by damaged nerves. It also helps improve food intake in HIV patients. When it comes to cancer, several small studies suggest that smoked cannabis can help with nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.

Studies have continually shown that people who took cannabis extracts during clinical trials tended to need fewer pain medications.

In more recent reports, scientists suggest that THC and other cannabinoids, such as CBD, are capable of slowing growth and even killing certain forms of cancer cells cultivated in petri dish. Studies on animals further suggest that some cannabinoids could slow growth of cancer cells and reduce the spread of some types of cancer. 

Still, there's much about cannabis and cancer that we don't know and where we need serious research. For example, there are no studies in people of the effect of marijuana oil or hemp oil. On the other hand, we all know that many cancer patients turn to cannabis oil to experience relief from symptoms caused by their condition. 

There have been some early clinical trials to gauge cannabinoid effectiveness in cancer treatment in humans and more such studies are scheduled to happen. While it's evident that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, there's a lack of scientific insights if they can help control or cure the disease. And if they can help control, for how long would that be possible? Is it only for particular types of cancer or all cancers? So on and so forth. 

Relying on Cannabis alone as treatment while avoiding or postponing conventional cancer medicines could bring serious health consequences. 

Types of Cannabis Drugs for Cancer

Pharmacological drugs based on Cannabis are already used during cancer treatment or to help patients in the last stages of the disease.

  • Dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) is a THC-based medicine that helps treat nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. It also helps with weight and appetite loss in patients with AIDS. Dronabinol is approved for use by the FDA. 
  • Nabilone (Cesamet) is a synthetic cannabinoid drug that mimics the effects of THC. It is prescribed for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy when other drugs fail to work. Nabilone is also approved for use in the US. 
  • Nabiximols is a mouth spray solution half THC and half CBD. It's used for pain associated with cancer, as well as muscle spasms and pain from multiple sclerosis (MS). This drug is currently available in Canada and some countries in Europe but not yet in the US.

How Cannabis Drugs Affect Cancer Symptoms? 

While the currently available cannabinoid drugs cannot cure cancer, they can offer relief for a number of symptoms. For example, dronabinol can reduce nausea and vomiting that results from chemotherapy. The same medicine is used to improve food intake in HIV patients and prevent weight loss. In cancer patients, however, dronabinol was not found to be more effective than other drugs that counter wasting. 

Nabilone crosses the blood-brain barrier, and its actions are similar to THC. It should be taken as directed by a doctor, even if the patient does not experience nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. 

Nabiximols spray has the potential to help cancer patients who struggle with pain and who do not respond to strong pain medicines, however, clinical studies have been inconsistent to confirm the pain relief effects, which is why this drug is not available everywhere, and research is still being done on it. 

Cannabinoid Drugs Side Effects

Like other drugs, cannabis-based prescription drugs for cancer do have side effects. Patients frequently report experiencing drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, and euphoria. Some of these effects are what you can actually expect from THC. 

Patients do not find great comfort in experiencing sensations of fatigue and weakness. Some also report issues such as a racing heart, low blood pressure, and even fainting. 

Cannabinoid prescription drugs can also worsen mental health issues such as depression and mania. A fraction of patients who takes nabilone for example also reports experiencing hallucinations.

Drugs may interact with other pills that the person may be taking, which may cause additional issues such as poor body coordination or memory problems. Older patients typically experience these side effects as more pronounced. 

In conclusion, when it comes to how Cannabis can help with cancer, it feels like we have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Much more scientific research needs to be done in the future so that we can use the full potential of the Cannabis plant and the therapeutic compounds that it creates. Hopefully, in this most important research journey we reach a point where find and develop cannabis medicines that can prevent cancer entirely!

Stephen Andrews