Is Medical Marijuana Cancer Treatment Worthwhile?
The Internet abounds with personal testimonies about the healing powers of medical marijuana where other treatments had failed, particularly in the case of untreatable cancers. Such stories might convince the desperate to consider this alternative, but the majority of the medical community remains unconvinced.
Although medical marijuana has been researched for decades as a potential treatment for cancer and cancer side effects, continued restrictions on the substance havemeant fewer conclusive clinical trials — the necessary proof for the FDA that medical marijuana is not only a safe but effective treatment for cancer and other conditions. Nonetheless, the evidence available seems to point to its potential application to this life-threatening condition. Is medical marijuana cancer treatment worthwhile? Here are the facts so you can decide for yourself.
Medical Marijuana as a Treatment for Cancer: Where We’re At
The FDA has not approved cannabis or its cannabinoids for cancer treatment. This comes as no surprise, since there are currently no published clinical trials on this application. However, the American Cancer Society points to one small study that involved injecting THC directly into tumors associated with severe glioblastoma (a type of brain cancer), and reported THC’s potential for fighting tumors. Ongoing controlled human studiesare still investigating the use of THC and CBD cannabinoids for fighting these type of tumors.
As a Treatment for Cancer Side Effects
Even though the potential of medical marijuana and its cannabinoids to fight cancer still requires much more clinical evidence, there is support for its role in easing the major side effects of chemotherapy. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guide recommends cannabinoid drugs for treating one of the most troublesome cancer side effects: severe nausea and vomiting.
There are numerous clinical trials that support the effectiveness of dronabinol and nabilone, the only two cannabinoid drugs approved by the FDA exclusively for the treatment of chemo-induced nausea. Another review of multiple studies comparedthem to other antiemeticsand supports themwith one exclusion: cannabinoids do not make much difference in cases of chemotherapy that produces either very mild or very severe nausea. These studies apply only to cannabinoid drugs and not inhaled cannabis, for which there are only a few, unpublished
studies. Nevertheless, there is a bulk of anecdotal support among cancer patients whose nausea has been eased with the use of medical marijuana.
Chronic Cancer Pain
Cancer can cause unbearable pain from inflammation, the invasion of sensitive tissues and nerve damage. Chronic, severe pain is usually treated with powerful, potentially addictive opioids that pose other health risks when they’re used long-term. In the search for a better solution, cannabinoids are measuring up. The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) recently cross-analyzed 79 random clinical trials and concluded there is modest support for using cannabinoids to treat chronic pain. Not only do cannabinoid drugs like nabilone treat pain; they allow cancer patients to use fewer strong pain relievers. Even inhaled medical marijuana’s ability to treat nerve pain has support from controlled trials.
Some studies also support the use of cannabinoids and inhaled medical marijuana for other cancer side effects such as decreased appetite, anxiety and sleep quality, while others don’t show much difference from conventional treatments. Smoked cannabis has been documented since the 1980s as a relaxant and appetite stimulant, but there are still no published trials to sanction its official use in treating these side effects.
The Risks of Smoked Medical Marijuana
Regardless of its growing scientific support, quality control is still an issue medical marijuana promoters need to solve to the satisfaction of the medical community. Since the cannabis plant frequently hosts harmful organisms such as fungus and mold, some doctors warn that smoked medical marijuana may be harmful to cancer patients with compromised immune systems.For example, there are documented cases of lung infections caused from ‘dirty’ cannabis. Of course, this doesn’t apply to extracted cannabinoids and lab-formulated drugs.
There you have it.Instead of just testimonies from across the Web, you now have the proof, the lack of proofand the potential risks of using medical marijuana as a treatment for cancer so you can decide for yourself if medical marijuana cancer treatment is worthwhile.