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Medical Marijuana and the Fight Against Cancer

CANCER AND CANNABIS


In recent years, despite over 70 years of interdiction, there has been a major shift in the laws governing medical use of cannabis in the United States. Popular attitudes are changing as we learn more about this ancient plant’s medicinal value and discover ways to use it as a viable medical alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. Medical marijuana is legal in roughly 30 countries worldwide, with some countries being more liberal than others. In the US, medical marijuana laws greatly vary from state to state. The legalization of medical cannabis has finally brought medical specialists to explore its value in diverse conditions, including cancer treatments. Recent research published by the American Cancer Society describes how cannabis is utilized in the care of subjects with cancer. The report also provides an accessible guide for clinicians, researchers, and patients to follow. The ACS supports more research into the benefits of cannabinoids, saying “We need better and more effective treatments to overcome the side effects of cancer and its treatment”.


PAIN MANAGEMENT

The most common use of cannabis for cancer patients is pain management and cancer-related anxiety or depression. Cancer patients regularly suffer from chronic pain, which may stem directly from a tumor, or as a side effect of their cancer treatment. Deficient management of chronic and neuropathic pain can vastly reduce a cancer patients’ quality of life. The current standard procedure for treating chronic or neuropathic pain in end-stage cancer patients relies heavily on opioid analgesics. Patients may respond poorly to opioids, experiencing harsh side effects and running the dangerous risk of developing dependency.


While there is evidence of the analgesic benefits of medical cannabis, its effectiveness lacks validation in the medical arena. The tests conducted so far comprise small pilot studies whose results suggest that medical cannabis can reduce chronic and neuropathic pain in advanced cancer patients. However, because of the limited number of subjects evaluated, the evidence remains circumstantial. There is a genuine need to conduct large scale double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Meanwhile, countless cancer patients have found substantial relief from pain caused by both the disease and the chemotherapy.

BRAIN CANCER

Some tests reveal that cannabinoids such as THC can actually shrink tumors. It promotes apoptosis (cellular death of tumors) by cutting off the blood supply, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue and cells.


Brain cancer is the overgrowth of brain cells that multiply to form tumors. Brain tumors frequently proliferate, disrupting various body functions and becoming life-threatening. Primary brain tumors start in the brain, while metastatic or secondary brain tumors can develop in other areas of the body and spread to the brain. One of the most frightening forms is malignant glioma, an often-deadly form of brain cancer that spreads rapidly. The University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute in Australia have used a modified form of cannabis to inhibit cancer cells without impacting normal cells. This means that, besides bringing relief for severe and chronic pain, cannabis can be used as a cancer treatment. This conclusion follows three years of research led by Australian oncologist Dr Matt Dun in collaboration with Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG). “ANTG wanted me to test it [cannabis] against cancer […] we initially used leukemia cells and were really surprised by how sensitive they were,” Dr Dun goes on to say. “At the same time, the cannabis didn’t kill normal bone marrow cells, nor normal healthy neutrophils [white blood cells]. We then realized there was a cancer-selective mechanism involved, and we’ve spent the past couple of years trying to find the answer. The CBD variety looks to have greater efficacy, low toxicity and fewer side-effects, which potentially makes it an ideal complementary therapy to combine with other anti-cancer compounds.”


Simultaneously, scientists and researchers have been testing the tumor-killing qualities of THC on animals, and their findings are nothing short of astounding. “Further research and treatment options are urgently needed for patients afflicted by brain cancer,” said Chase Gross, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University. “Our work shows that cannabis has the potential to provide an effective, synergistic glioblastoma therapy option and that it should continue to be vigorously studied.” Human clinical trials are now in progress, and so far the research looks promising.

CANNABIS AND IMMUNITY

The primary role of the immune system is to protect against infectious agents. The immune system is a complex structure of cells, organs, and tissues working in symbiosis to keep us alive and well. Human bodies are constantly exposed to an endless stream of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They can cause potentially fatal diseases and infections. It’s the integrated immune system that blocks the toxic intruders, preventing them from spreading and causing damage. It ensures this protection through an ability to recognize what is foreign, which it then destroys via a range of mechanisms. Significant changes in immune competence can cause serious adverse health effects. For example, inappropriate or exaggerated immune responses can result in autoimmunity or allergy.


Studies have shown that CBD can influence the immune system by functioning as an immunosuppressant and immunomodulator—this is a double-edged sword. Suppressing inflammatory response in a healthy body isn’t advisable, nor is promoting unnecessary cell death or preventing healthy cell growth.


In conclusion, the anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties of CBD make it a viable solution for subjects who have cancer or an autoimmune disease. But CBD may not be a brilliant choice as a supplement for healthy people. The answers to the questions arising will emerge as they conduct more research on the different categories of cannabinoids and their various applications.


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