The human body consists of hundreds of millions of cells that form our tissues and organs. Cells receive signals from the nucleus that tell them when to divide and multiply, as the body requires, to sustain optimal health. When these signals are interrupted, cells start to multiply out of control and form a tumour. This is where cancer begins.
Cancer cells, like much of the body, have cannabinoid receptors – intelligent protein molecules that form part of our endocannabinoid system and allow the plant to communicate with the body.These receptors are the pathway that allows ganja to be effective at treating various cancers.
Research has shown that the two most active compounds of cannabis, CBD and THC, are anti-tumour and have the amazing ability to target only cancerous cells. Chemotherapy treatment, on the other hand, does not distinguish ‘bad’ from ‘good’ cells.
Neurosurgeon and medical director of Apollon Medical Formularies Dr Anthony Hall says the organic nature of cannabinoids allows for aggressive treatment with much more tolerable side effects compared to chemotherapy and radiation.
“When treating cancer with cannabinoids, we push the doses very high for about 30 days. Based on the results and imaging scans, we then lower accordingly to a maintenance dose,” said Hall.
The treatment of cancer with cannabinoids is a meticulous process of balancing the CBD and THC ratios based on the patient and the ailment. Studies show that a THC-CBD combination is more effective than when either is used in isolation. CBD also eases some of the unpleasant side effects of THC.
Dr Hall says Apollon also combines cannabis treatment with chemotherapy and radiation and notes that the cannabinoids enhance the anti-tumour effect of both traditional cancer therapies.
Apollon is one of several medical cannabis companies that has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government geared towards defining and distinguishing the local medical ganja industry. It operates from the resort town of Negril and positions itself as a wellness and therapeutic facility. The company also boasts a local award-winning strain which it says “has been scientifically quantitated to have medically appropriate levels [of CBD and THC] for improving the lives of patients”.
Apollon has treated prostate, ovarian and colon cancers with “moderately good to very good results”, according to Hall.
While definitive research on cannabis’ efficacy against cancer is limited, Apollon’s results shouldn’t be surprising. One of the first experiments on ganja’s anti-cancer effect took place in 1974 at the Medical College of Virginia. The Huffington Post reported that a study showed that THC “slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukaemia in laboratory mice and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 per cent”.
Despite the suppression of similar research over the past four decades, numerous studies have reported that CBD and THC shut down cellular growth receptors and disrupt the rate of metastasis, the spread of the cancer.
When Florida first allowed medical marijuana in 2014, Hall was one of the first physicians in that US state to receive a licence to medically recommend cannabis. He incorporates cannabinoid treatment in both his overseas and local practices and says he gets slightly better results using Jamaican cannabis. The higher THC content of Jamaican cannabis and the access to full-spectrum CBD oil here have meant that treatment is more effective in Jamaica than in Florida.
“In Jamaica, we are using the full-spectrum cannabis oil – so it has all cannabinoids and terpenes and it results in a better treatment,” said Hall.
Generally, it is also cheaper to get treated in Jamaica than in the USA. Hall said that the initial 30-day treatment averages about US$500 per day “and then, after that, there’s a maintenance dose that can range from US$20 to US$100 per day”.
Cannabinoid treatment for cancer and other diseases may very well be the norm in the near future. A bill for the federal legalisation of marijuana in the USA is expected to be tabled this year and once enacted could mean quantum leaps for cancer treatment.This would set the stage for more conclusive research, provide patients with more options, and, with so many players in the industry, most likely make treatment costs competitive.