Prevalence & Description of Cancer
Cancer is the leading cause of death among Canadians. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly 1 in 2 Canadians are expected to experience cancer in their lifetime, with 1 in 4 Canadians expected to die from the disease. In 2017, it was estimated that 206,200 cases of cancer would be diagnosed, with this prevalence expected to increase by 80% by 2030 than the prevalence recorded in 2005.
Cancer is a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body, with this cell proliferation being what causes cancer to spread. Some cancer cells gain the ability to escape a primary tumour and spread to other organs, impacting their ability to function, which may eventually result in death.
Finding a “cure” for cancer has been one of the most sought-after medical endeavours of the 20th and 21st centuries. While there have been many cancer treatments and medical advances that are proving to fight the disease, there has not yet been a universal cure that has been discovered.
Medical cannabis is rising in the ranks in the medical discourse surrounding oncology and the fight against cancer. While many empirical stories claim that “cannabis has cured” their cancer, it would be irresponsible for the medical community, at this point, to tout cannabis as a cure for cancer. However, medical cannabis is securing an important place in cancer care while researchers continue to explore its ability to fight tumours and manage the side effects of this all-too-prevalent disease.
Cannabis’ Anti-Cancer Properties: What We Know Now
Emerging research suggests that there may be anti-cancer mechanisms contained in cannabinoids, yet the research always indicates that there is more to be discovered before calling cannabis a “cure” for cancer.
Apoptosis and Autophagy
Researchers are theorizing that cannabis could cause “cell death”, triggering both apoptosis and autophagy, where cancer cells are programmed to die/self-destruct and self-devour respectively.
Cannabis has been shown to stimulate apoptosis and autophagy in cancer cells by acting on the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. Particularly, cannabinoids THC and CBD bind to the endocannabinoid receptors, sending signals into the bodily systems which result in cell death. As the endocannabinoid system also plays a key role in cell migration, cannabis acts on receptors to slow or stop the spreading of cancer cells, also known as metastasis.
A 2016 study published in Current Oncology examined the antitumor properties of cannabinoids, and saw that the “engagement of a molecular target (CB1 and CB2 receptors) by a family of selective drugs (including THC and other cannabinoid agonists) inhibits tumour growth in animal models through a well-established mechanism of action” concluding that “cannabinoids induce tumour cell death and inhibit tumour angiogenesis and invasion in animal models of cancer, and there are indications that they act similarly in patients with glioblastoma” (a form of brain cancer).
Angiogenesis also plays a role in how cancer can spread in the body. Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels from old blood vessels, which is a healthy and integral part of the body’s normal functioning.
Angiogenesis is also a process that allows benign tumours to become malignant cancers. When angiogenesis occurs, cells are supplied with an ongoing supply of nutrients and blood flow, causing cancer to grow and tumours to spread.
It’s been theorized that cannabis has a unique way of distinguishing healthy cells from cancerous cells because blood vessel growth is regulated in part by the endocannabinoid system. A study published in 2007 shows that the growth of cancerous cells was significantly slowed by the anti-angiogenesis properties of cannabis.
An earlier study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics showed that after treating mice with high doses of orally-ingested CBD, the incidence of cancer was reduced by 70% after just 18 days.
Dr. Sean McAllister is a cannabis and cancer researcher, who, in 2007, published a study wherein CBD was introduced as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in aggressive breast cancer cells. The study posed that CBD switches off the Id-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell conductor, with this study proposing that CBD could be a breakthrough anti-cancer medication (McAllister et al, 2007).
Cannabis with Other Therapies
A 2014 study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics was the first to document the effects of cannabinoids when used with radiation therapy or radiotherapy. “Dramatic reductions” were observed in high-grade glioma masses, a deadly form of brain cancer, when THC and CBD were utilized in conjunction with radiotherapy on mice.
While these studies and all studies that continue to emerge to this day are preliminary, the research certainly shows a certain degree of promise for cannabis’ potential to help fight cancer along with traditional forms of treatment.
Cannabis for Supporting Cancer Treatments
Apollo Cannabis Clinics supports the further development of research on cannabis anti-cancer properties so that the potential for cannabis on this all-too-common disease can be fully realized. Until then, Apollo supports the emerging research that cannabis can help drastically reduce the negative effects of traditional routes to cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy.
With nausea and vomiting being a common side effect of chemotherapy, cannabis has been shown to significantly reduce these negative side effects. Neuropathic pain is also a common negative side effect of chemotherapy, where cannabis is being researched as an intervention. Cannabis is being increasingly prescribed to help people reduce severe pain associated with this form of cancer treatment.
Exploring the Role of Cannabis in the Cancer Journey
More research is needed across all medical areas, including cannabis, to determine the factors that constitute a “cure” for cancer. Many cannabis activists have emerged to share their story about how cannabis has “cured” their cancer, yet sadly, the body of research that is available doesn’t yet match up to the empirical evidence that is being collected on cannabis and cancer.
Apollo Cannabis Clinic is an evidenced-based clinic who has been conducting observational research on medical cannabis and conditions since 2014.
We are here to support those living with cancer on their cancer journey by exploring how cannabinoid therapies can make living with cancer more comfortable. We encourage all patients to continue traditional medical approaches to their cancer care while integrating cannabis into their cancer journey.
Contact us to discuss how you can receive your medical cannabis recommendation from one of our qualified doctors and learn more about cannabis and cancer.