Can Cannabis Cure Cancer? What The Research Says, And Claims To Avoid

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Scientists, government officials, and medical researchers have been alarmed by an idea, circulated primarily on the internet, that cannabis can "cure" cancer. No, it cannot.

The FDA has warned these types of medical claims are illegal for cannabis and CBD companies to make, leaving the industry vulnerable to lawsuits. "Some of the largest lawsuits we've seen as of late have been as a result of companies making health-related claims where state regulators or the FDA have taken a firm position," Jeffrey Welsh, cannabis attorney partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP, told Green Entrepreneur. 

Yet, there is hope. A new medical study has emerged stating that cannabis slows some types of cancer cell growth.

The two doctors who wrote the paper, published in JAMA Oncology, focused on the idea that some cancer patients may use cannabis and forego traditional treatments. They originally called the choice to forego traditional chemo and other types of treatments “disturbing.”

However, Dr. Donald Abrams, an oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Manuel Guzman, professor of biochemistry at Complutense University in Madrid, voiced optimism about the potential of cannabis slowing the growth of some types of cancerous cells.

While optimism and more research are welcomed by the medical community, the new study is still far from enough evidence to prove cannabis is a "cure" for cancer. 

Promising research on cannabis and cancer in mice.

In an interview with the nonprofit Fundación CANNA, Guzman pointed out that all research so far into the impact of cannabis on cancer cells has involved “cancer cells cultured on plates or animal models of cancer” —mice and rats. So, take results from these experiments with a grain of salt because what affects cancerous cells in mice and rats does not always translate over into human beings.

Guzman said that studies have shown cannabinoid, especially THC, ”exercise a wide range of effects that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.” They include activating cell death, blocking cell division, and inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels in tumors. The study also says THC has been shown to reduce the metastatic capacity of cancer cells.

Guzman summarized his findings that, “cannabinoids appear to be effective substances for the experimental treatment of at least some types of cancer, at least in small laboratory animals.”

Cancer patients need to be aware of the facts.

In a separate interview with Leafly, Abrams voiced a similar caution as Guzman about lab test results. He said that in his years as an AIDS doctor, research showed that soaps suds and gasoline killed the AIDS virus in test tubes. Of course, that didn’t work in patients.

“Taking cells in culture and adding chemicals to them is very different than digesting something in the human body,” Abrams said, noting that the human digestive, detoxification, and immune systems all contribute to interactions between a drug, the body, and its cancer cells. 

On the other hand, both doctors said in the interviews and the report that studies have shown cannabis can have a positive impact on the symptoms of cancer, which include treating nausea that some patients experience while going through chemotherapy. Others advocate cannabis for pain management, as growing studies on it have become more and more conclusive

The American Cancer Society notes that “studies have long shown that people who took marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to need less pain medicine.” But the ACS continues to say that, “relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.”

The most important thing to remember is, these hopeful studies and testimonials are not medical advice. Talk to your doctor.

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