Cancer affects everybody. Nobody in America is unscathed by it. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40 percent of the population will receive a cancer diagnosis at some time in their lives. Everyone knows someone afflicted with cancer, and chances are, someone you love personally has battled it. There are more oncologists today than in any other medical specialty.
Most cancer doctors support using marijuana as part of a treatment plan for patients. However, despite well documented and mounting evidence of its ability to alleviate cancer symptoms, the U.S. federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which means its potential for abuse is high and it has no medicinal value, both of which are blatantly false.
The federal government’s stance on marijuana consequently stifles crucially needed study into the potential of using cannabis as a “cure” or treatment for cancer. Additionally, the government’s viewpoint is fueling massive disinformation about the effect of pot on this disease. There are major contradictions, and in the meantime, patients nationwide continue to suffer needlessly.
On one hand, the government denies that the cannabis plant has any medicinal value, despite expressly admitting, in writing on the National Cancer Institute’s website, that it kills cancer cells in the laboratory. On the other, many pseudoscientists exaggerate claims of its penultimate ability to cure cancer. Although thousands of cancer patients attest to this, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.
The truth sits somewhere in the middle.
What Does a “Cure” for Cancer Mean?
There is a robust debate about whether cannabis really “cures” cancer. Dr. Abrams, marijuana advocate and leading cancer researcher and oncologist, warns against using the word ‘cure,’ “Cure is a huge word in oncology. It usually implies that the patient has survived five years without evidence of their cancer. We are able to cure more cancers today than we were when I began my career. That has been through advances in diagnosis and treatment with conventional therapies.”
If anyone knows the subject, it is Dr. Abrams. As an integrative medicine and cancer specialist at the University of California San Francisco Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Mount Zion, and a three-decades-long oncologist, Dr. Abrams notes the following:
“After 33 years of being an oncologist in San Francisco, I would guess that a large proportion of the patients I have treated have used cannabis. If cannabis definitively cured cancer, I would have expected that I would have a lot more survivors. That being said, what we do know is that cannabis for cancer is truly an amazing medicine and treatment-related side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.”
The consensus within the scientific and oncology community agrees with Dr. Abrams’ opinion: The effectiveness of marijuana at treating cancer symptoms and treatment-related side effects is undeniable. However, they almost unanimously question whether marijuana does, or even can, provide a “cure” for cancer.
The Internet is Not Always Right
Because so many succumb to cancer, people are desperate to find an unquestionable cure. Thousands of anecdotal stories exist online from those who believe that marijuana, specifically cannabis oil, reversed or cured their cancers. So many believe wholeheartedly that it worked for them or their loved ones, but when asked about these anecdotal claims, Dr. Abrams had this to say:
“I note that many of the people who are very vocal about how cannabis oil cured their cancers seem to forget that they also received conventional therapies. If people really have used only cannabis oil and can truly document that they have cured their cancer, they need to submit that data to the National Cancer Institute’s Office on Cancer Complementary and Alternative Therapy’s Best Case Scenario website, so that evidence can be documented.”
Additionally, it is important to note that many of these articles declaring cannabis a cure misrepresent studies, omit key facts, or exaggerate their claims. There is no doubt that marijuana has an important role to play in cancer treatment, and that it may be a potential cure, but right now, we need more scientific evidence of its effects.
Cannabis Kills Cells in Laboratory Studies
As we search frantically for anti-cancer treatments and cures, several scientific studies already exist resulting in very promising leads. Researchers have been studying the body’s natural endocannabinoids and marijuana’s cannabinoid receptors. Well-documented studies have established the role of cannabinoids in stopping or inhibiting the growth of different cancers and preventing them from spreading, including leukemia, melanoma, and pheochromocytoma, liver, brain, and breast cancers.
Furthermore, cannabinoids promote apoptosis, or the death of tumor cells, while preventing angiogenesis, or blood supply to the tumor. One study, in particular, conducted by Madrid’s Complutense University, found that injecting synthetic THC into mice eliminated brain tumors in one-third of them while extending lives in another third.
Such research is highly promising, but it remains preclinical. Preclinical trials involve testing treatments and drugs in animals before testing them on humans. While these preclinical findings offer much hope for cancer sufferers and their families, we still need clinical trials in humans before anyone can say that marijuana cures cancer with any confidence.
Additionally, because cancer is a broad category of many diseases involving abnormal growth of cells, it may be unlikely that there will ever be a single “cure-all” marijuana treatment. Similarly, synthetic or naturally derived cannabinoid agents may require combining treatments, such as supplemental medicines or traditional chemotherapy.
For marijuana to become a routine treatment for cancer, it must first undergo rigorous clinical and pharmacological study. In order to speed this process, the government must end prohibition of medical cannabis. Perhaps hypocritically, the federally funded National Cancer Institute already knows the potential of cannabis as a treatment for cancer, and it has very quietly admitted that it kills cancer cells in preclinical laboratory studies.
Despite this, the federal government has not made any significant effort to align itself with the majority of Americans and the scientific community on the issue of marijuana. With more states legalizing its use and more citizens supporting it, we wait for the government to end prohibition. If cannabis does in fact cure cancer, patients will no longer turn to questionable sources for treatment.