Can cannabis be a cure for cancer?

The cannabis plant continues to be praised as a multi-purpose source of medicine capable of treating a variety of healthcare problems. This includes the strong perception that certain extracts from the cannabis plant can treat and in some cases even cure certain types of cancer.

As a result of these perceptions and observations, scientists and clinical researchers have become heavily involved in research in order to determine if there is any validity.


The notion that cannabis can be applied to cancer treatment is shared by the US National Cancer Institute which reported that cannabis could significantly help patients manage symptoms and ailments during treatment. They also suggest that cannabis medicine could prove to be an “effective tool for battling cancer”. While many cancer patients are using cannabis to combat side effects of the disease and chemotherapy, the use of cannabis and its major components to treat cancer has not been widely adopted due to the lack of sufficient scientific research and development.

Scientists have found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound of cannabis and other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound of cannabis, have the ability to slow the growth of cancer cells.

In other observations it has been noted that the cannabinoids can even induce cell death in certain types of cancer cells. There are also a number of animal studies that demonstrate how certain cannabinoids can reduce the spread of some types of cancer.

However, many of these studies have yet to be conducted in human clinical trials. A small number of limited clinical trials have been done on the use of cannabinoids to treat cancer. However, larger and more robust clinical trials are required to satisfy the claim that the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant can effectively and safely treat cancer.

Potential of Cannabis for the treatment of Cancer

THC and CBD are the two major cannabinoids being evaluated as therapeutic agents for cancer. So far, the following effects of these compounds have been observed:

• Blocking tumour cell growth

Cancer is characterised by excessive cell growth and can occur in almost any part of the body. THC and CBD were found to cause cell death that can efficiently eliminate the cancer cells.

• Preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumours

Cannabinoid administrations in experiments with mouse models have been observed to reduce the growth of blood vessels as well as lymphatic vessels. The mechanism behind this is that in order for solid cancer tumours to grow and survive, they need significant blood supply.

Cannabis medicines are often indirectly associated with cancer care. The examples often cited are pains related to cancer, sleep improvement and weight gain as well as providing anti-inflammatory activity.

It should be noted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis as a valid treatment for any type of cancer. However, there are a number of cannabis-based drugs such as Dronabinol and Nabilone (synthetic cannabis drugs) that have been approved by the FDA for the prevention or treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, but not for other cancer care problems. In recent times, there is also the trend of drug combination for therapeutic purposes.

Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe and his team have developed a number of clinical studies to examine the potential of cannabis medicines. More significantly, the team plans to begin studies for palliative care (medical and nursing care for people with life-limiting illnesses) through a grant from the Development Bank of Jamaica.

Other cancer-related clinical studies have been planned for implementation before the end of this year. When this is done, Jamaica will certainly be at the forefront of cannabis research, development, and innovation.

— Precianne Miller is the marketing officer at Medicanja Limited


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