Cannabis, Cannabinoids and Their Use In Cancer Treatment

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Sep 21 2021 - 5 min read

Guest article by Sam Hoffman, Content Marketing Specialist.

Is it possible for cannabis to be used as a cancer treatment? There has been much talk about the beneficial properties of cannabis recently, but just how trustworthy are these pieces of information? Today, Leafwell is tackling the topic of cannabinoids and cancer in depth.

Cannabis as Medicine

Cannabis is somewhat of a taboo subject and has, thus, caused a revolution in medicine in the past decade, dividing people into one of three groups:

    1. People who still consider it to be a drug that should remain illegal;
    2. People who believe medical use should be researched and explored, but oppose recreational legalization;
    3. People who have recognized its numerous benefits for our health and think that it should be legalized both recreationally and for medical purposes.

Whichever group you fit into at the moment, there is the chance that learning about the science behind cannabis and the endocannabinoid system may change your opinion!

Many studies conducted in the past few years have shown that both cannabis and cannabinoids can be extremely helpful when used for cancer treatment.

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Let’s get into the cold hard facts about cannabis and cannabinoids and their effects on cancer treatment.

The Role of CBD and Other Cannabinoids

The first thing you should know when it comes to cannabinoids is that cannabidiol (CBD) is one of 144 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.  CBD, in particular, has been a breakthrough medicine in the past decade and is now being used for many purposes. CBD is also, at the moment, the most common cannabinoid to be used in such purposes, although, we must stress, it is by no means the only compound in the cannabis plant that is helpful.

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The thing that makes CBD taboo in some circles is that people tend to put cannabinoid hand in hand with THC, which could not be further from the truth. While both are compounds found in the cannabis plant, THC is psychoactive, whereas CBD is not. However, CBD has a definite physiological effect and what could be called a “partially psychoactive” effect, so technically CBD is “psychoactive” in its own unique way, just not to the extent of THC. Therefore, apart from other differences between the two, the main and the most important one is that CBD cannot make you “high.”

There are also many other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that have little-to-no psychoactivity and could be just as useful as CBD. Even with THC, psychoactive amounts needn’t necessarily be used for therapeutic effect.

THC and its psychoactive components are one major reason why some people overlook cannabis as medicine. But once people begin to realize that CBD and many other cannabinoids are much safer in comparison to numerous other drugs, perspectives may change.

It is also important to understand that our bodies produce some cannabinoids on their own, which makes this remedy all the more natural. We have two main types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, CB1 and CB2.

The majority of CB1 receptors are located in the brain, kidneys, lungs, and liver. Together with CB2 receptors (which are found on white blood cells and in the tonsils and spleen) CB1 receptors often have a great influence on our appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation. Cannabinoid receptors “talk” to other receptors in the body, and can influence the way they behave in direct or indirect ways. This exact discovery is what leads to a sudden revolution in natural remedies, because this means that using cannabis and cannabinoids has a direct influence on our CB1 and CB2 receptors. What do these revelations mean for cancer patients?

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Anticancer Effects of CBD and Other Cannabinoids

To say that studies on cannabis’ and cannabinoids’ beneficial properties in terms of treating cancer have just begun is definitely an overstatement. Although cannabis has been actively used in medical purposes for at least 3,000 years, one of the first ‘recent’ studies with regards to cannabinoids’ use for cancer actually occurred in 1975, when Munson et al. discovered that cannabinoids show the ability of inhibiting the growth of a certain lung cancer.

Interestingly enough, in Munson’s study, delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, and CBN retarded cancer growth, whereas CBD did not. There have been many suggestions that different tumors require different cannabinoid profiles, and at different dosages. There are others who suggest that CBD’s anticancer properties only become active when used in combination with other cannabinoids. The entourage effect, it seems, is very real and of significant benefit for cancer patients.

Another important discovery is the fact that CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists may help kill certain brain cancer cells. Essentially, this means that the use of cannabinoids can cause the death of tumorous cells, while at the same time inhibiting their further reproduction, possibly by disrupting ceramide signalling. Such discoveries have been the basis for many of the cancer and cannabis studies currently taking place.

Benefits of Cannabis for Cancer

While cannabinoid treatment for cancer and nausea associated with chemotherapy has been around since the early 1980s, only recently was proof  ascertained that cannabinoids can actually kill cancer cells themselves. Other therapeutic effects of cannabis for cancer include:

    • Cannabinoids can help increase the appetite of patients who use chemotherapy as a means of treatment of cancer.
    • Cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties, which means that they can help alleviate muscle pain.
    • As mentioned, cannabinoids can eliminate some tumor cells, while leaving healthy cells intact. A review of evidence has shown that cannabinoids efficiently induced cell death in breast cancer patients.
    • Regular use of cannabinoids may reduce the ability of some tumor cells’ reproduction.
    • Cannabinoids can help reduce nausea.
    • Cannabinoids may help protect the immune system.

Side Effects of Cannabis for Cancer

On the other hand, even though most of the discoveries when it comes to cannabis’ and cannabinoids’ properties have generally been positive, there are some minor side effects that some CBD oil users have reported. Some of these side effects include drowsiness, diarrhea, dry mouth, lightheadedness, migraines, and headaches. Although cannabis can be useful to combat vomiting, in some people, extremely high doses of cannabinoids may actually have the opposite effect and be a cause of nausea/vomiting. Those undergoing immunotherapy may also want to avoid cannabinoid treatment, which may interfere with the immune system.

However, although these side effects can be quite unpleasant for the consumers, they are not enough to stop millions of people from seeking CBD oil as a treatment for their ailments. Such side effects are also rare and, unless used in combination with other drugs, never deadly.

We must emphasize that CBD alone will not help treat cancer. Remember: different types of cancer require different treatment methods, so specific cannabinoid profiles and dosages may be required to effectively beat cancer. Individual differences in a person’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS) may also change which type of profile is needed. Yes, some people suffering from specific types of cancer may benefit from CBD and other cannabinoids & terpenoids (with little or no THC), but others may require moderate or even high doses of THC, with or without CBD.

Can Cannabinoids Help Treat Cancer?

While there is significant evidence suggesting that cannabinoids can be useful for cancers of many types, it is obvious that care should be taken when using the plant as a medicine for a condition as sensitive and potentially deadly as cancer. Learning how different cannabinoids work on their own and in combination with one another is hugely important and could give us a unique, comparatively safe medication for beating cancer. Get the wrong ratio at the wrong dosage, and cannabinoids may not be effective, or possibly even cause cancer to grow! More studies need to be carried out in this area, and ideally, governments should not restrict the research into phytocannabinoid use for cancer.

Cannabis; marijuana; smoking equipment' grinder; stash bag; vaporizer.
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Taking into account that these side effects are minor when compared to CBD oil’s benefits, the future of this natural remedy seems quite bright. There are many studies still to be done on this particular subject, but one thing is certain: cannabis and cannabinoids are definitely changing medicine as we know it.

As you conduct your own research into the best treatment options, the physicians at Leafwell are here to help. Reach out to apply for a medical marijuana card today.

Sam Hoffman, Content marketing specialist

Sam is an award-winning writer with passion in providing creative solutions for building brands online. Since his first award in Creative Writing, he continued to deliver awesome content through various niches.

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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