Therapeutic cannabis in the treatment of cancer

The use of cannabis in patients with different types of cancer was one of the forerunners for medicinal cannabis internationally . Shall we understand more about this? Come with us!

When we research a little about cannabis, we discover that its medicinal and therapeutic uses go back to antiquity, in the most diverse eastern and western civilizations. With prohibitionism, these practices were lost – but they are, little by little, being rescued by researchers and doctors from all over the world. We already have extensive lists of disorders where cannabis can be a possible treatment for many symptoms: epilepsy, glaucoma, depression, and even cancer, which we are going to explore more about today!

We believe that there is no better topic to start this series on medicinal/therapeutic cannabis. After all, cancer was the disease that opened the door to the herb within contemporary medicine.

In addition, we know how important it is to talk about it. There are many different types of cancer, and it is now almost impossible to meet someone who does not have family members and/or friends affected by the condition. Finding suitable forms of treatment and ways to alleviate the pain caused is one of the greatest missions of oncology today.

We are launching this series on therapeutic and medicinal cannabis to spread the awareness of cannabis as an important tool for medicine.  We know that prohibitionism generated a lot of negative propaganda about the substance, and prejudice also exists within the medical community. This and the next posts will bring scientific data so that patients, friends, family members and even future health professionals can open up to the possibility of seeing cannabis as a remedy for countless conditions.

Here, we will retrieve a little of the history of cannabis in the treatment of cancer, what are its main effects for patients at different stages of the disease and how research in this field has advanced in recent years. Are we going to find out all this? Come with us!

Important warning: any possibility of using cannabis as a medicine must be analyzed by a specialist who monitors the history of each patient. This post is not a recommendation for self-medication with cannabis in any way. If you believe it can benefit your condition, talk to your doctor.

What is cancer?

According to the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA), cancer is a group of more than one hundred diseases, which have in common the disordered growth of cells, which invade tissues and organs, forming tumors. As they divide quickly, aggressively and uncontrollably, they can spread to other regions of the body.

The different types of cancer correspond to the various types of cells present in our body. When they start in epithelial tissues, such as skin or mucous membranes, they are called carcinomas. If the starting point is connective tissues, such as bone, muscle or cartilage, they are called sarcomas. Other characteristics that differentiate types of cancer from each other are the speed of cell multiplication and the ability to invade neighboring or distant tissues and organs, known as metastasis.

The disease is an old acquaintance of practically all of us. Not even our idols can escape – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and, more recently, Chadwick Boseman. According to the INCA, in Brazil alone, more than 600 thousand new cases are estimated in 2020. Like many other disorders, the most effective method of dealing with it is prevention, but there are different treatments for each case presented, in its different stages.

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Flowering cannabis

Therapeutic cannabis in treatments

We already know about the therapeutic potential of cannabis in several cases, as we have already shown here on the blog. When we talk about cancer, there is a wide variety of research seeking to discover the power of cannabinoids in the fight against the disease. The plant and the preparations derived from it can provide relief from symptoms related to cancer, such as pain, nausea and inflammation. Some research has even shown that some cannabis compounds can slow cancer growth and shrink tumors.

According to research, our endocannabinoid receptors (CB1) are located in several important structures for pain in the brain, such as periaqueductal gray, the spinal trigeminal nucleus, the amygdala and the basal ganglia. Both they and CB2 receptors, outside the central nervous system, are linked to pain suppression. It is important to note that cannabinoids other than THC also contribute to the analgesic properties of cannabis – therefore, full-spectrum drugs are always more suitable.

As for nausea, tests have been carried out since the 1980s on the properties of cannabis against this symptom – reported mainly during chemotherapy. According to the British Medical Journal, cannabis has been shown to be more effective than six other tested antiemetics, also capable of controlling vomiting. The most common side effects found were low blood pressure, anxiety and euphoria.

Inflammation is also reduced with the use of cannabis, according to studies. The fact that CB1 and CB2 receptors have been found in immune cells suggests that cannabinoids play an important role in regulating the immune system. Several studies have shown that cannabinoids regulate regulatory T cells (Tregs) as a mechanism to suppress inflammatory responses. The endocannabinoid system is also involved in immunoregulation. For example, the administration of endocannabinoids or the use of enzyme inhibitors that break down endocannabinoids has led to immunosuppression and recovery from immune-mediated lesions in organs such as the liver.

And while it is a big myth that cannabis can definitely work to cure cancer, it is already being investigated as a way to shrink tumors. In studies, THC and other cannabinoids have been shown to inhibit tumor growth and angiogenesis in animal models. Tetrahydrocannabinol also inhibited the proliferation of tumor cells in vitro and decreased the immunostaining of tumor cells when administered to patients. Cannabinoids have also been shown to be good when associated with chemotherapy, decreasing cancer cells in patients with leukemia.

At what stages of treatment is it indicated?

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Outdoor cannabis crop

The most recommended, always, is to have the medical recommendation and maintain an open dialogue with the specialists who are taking care of the patient. The truth is that, with the properties described above, the substance can fit into the most diverse stages of cancer – from its discovery in the body, to appease anxiety; in the relief of nausea and adverse symptoms caused by chemotherapy; and even to decrease pain in terminal stages.

Cannabis can be a good alternative for terminally ill patients. According to the World Health Organization, palliative care is “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families in the face of problems associated with potentially fatal diseases, through the prevention and relief of suffering through early identification and impeccable assessment. and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual ”. In this context, cannabis helps to improve the quality of life, raising mood in critical moments and helping psychologically to face the difficult times to come.

Since 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Health has approved medical cannabis for palliative care in cancer patients. This led to a prospective study that looked at the safety and efficacy of cannabis in 2,970 patients and the responses were extremely positive:

  • Ninety-six percent of patients who responded at 6-month follow-up reported an improvement in their condition, 3.7% reported no change and 0.3% reported deterioration in their medical condition.
  • While only 18.7% of patients described themselves as having a good quality of life before cannabis treatment, 69.5% did so six months later.
  • Just over a third of patients stopped using opioid painkillers.

Later on, we will also talk about the use of psychedelics in terminally ill patients.

But how to get medication in Brazil?

In any case, when there is a desire to have a treatment with cannabis derivatives, it is necessary to apply for an individual authorization. Since 2015, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has allowed the import of drugs containing cannabinoids, and you can review the process here in this post.

Those who wish can still understand whether having a personal grow is a valid option for their reality. Here on the blog, we’ve talked a lot about reasons for adopting self-cultivation, and we even cleared up doubts about the topic with the lawyers at Rede Reforma. If this alternative sounds better to you, you can contact a trusted attorney and apply for individual Habeas Corpus to protect yourself under the law.

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Indoor cannabis crop

Does this treatment offer risks?

Like any substance that alters our physical and mental state, cannabis can offer risks in some cases. And, although it is increasingly cited in modern literature as a good alternative, we still need to understand what negative effects can be observed with its use.

According to some studies, cannabinoids can suppress the immune system – which can be problematic when combined with immunotherapy. This treatment takes advantage of compounds created by the body or synthesized in a laboratory to improve or restore the function of the immune system, to stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells. Immunomodulation, caused by cannabis, negatively regulates the intensity or duration of an immune response and may even increase the threshold necessary to initiate immune activity.

This property makes cannabis ideal for the treatment of inflammation or autoimmune diseases characterized by hyperactivity of the immune system. For cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy, however, it is not so useful.

In addition, the way the patient will consume cannabis should take in consideration ways to reduce risks and harms. Under no circumstances, for example, cannabis should be smoked – since the combustion process can potentially create carcinogenic substances.

It is interesting to talk to the doctor and understand the specific needs of each patient. Vaporization, topical use or edibles have different action times.

  • It can take up to 90 minutes to feel the effects of an edible, but they can last for up to ten hours;
  • Anyone who vaporizes cannabis can begin to feel its effects within five minutes, but it starts to pass in about two hours;
  • Tinctures usually start working within 15 minutes. Its effects can be felt faster if it is placed under the tongue rather than just swallowed, and can last from two to six hours.

It is painful to see how little is still said about cannabis as an auxiliary treatment for diseases such as cancer, which cause the suffering of many people. Prohibitionism and the more than one hundred years of anti-cannabis propaganda are responsible not only for creating myths and lies about the substance, but also with the few advances in research that have been resumed so recently, but already show the results. true potentials of the substance.

To fight for anti-prohibitionist policies is also to fight for better conditions for those who have a diagnosis not only of cancer, but of many other diseases. We know that current policies are not enough to solve the demand here in Brazil, and we hope that, soon, we will be able to see much more democratized access to the substance.

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