Although cannabis has long been used to treat patients with cancer, scientists have a loftier goal in mind for the plant: curing certain forms of cancer entirely.
New cancer research is looking at cannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis. There are more than 60 different known cannabinoids, the most famous of which is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical component that causes users to feel high.
As scientists gain a better understanding about how cannabinoids affect cancer cells, they can develop medicines and medical treatments using concentrated amounts of these cancer-fighting compounds. Once the medicine is approved, cannabis manufacturing facilities can produce and distribute it to patients who need it.
Preclinical Studies Indicate Cannabinoids May Destroy Cancer Cells
Early research shows promise that specific cannabinoids can kill or damage cancer cells without harming normal cells in patients with liver cancer, lung cancer, or breast cancer.
Upon entering the body, cannabinoids bind to special cannabinoid receptors (part of the body’s endocannabinoid system), causing a reaction. Together, they help regulate body functions such as appetite, pain sensation, memory, and mood. This dynamic duo of cannabinoid and receptor may be the key to destroying cancer cells.
Other preclinical studies have indicated that cannabinoids may:
- block the blood vessels that feed tumors
- inhibit tumor growth
- decrease the number of tumors
- stop tumors from spreading
- boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy
- have positive effect on certain types of brain, lung, breast, and prostate cancers
Conducting Clinical Trials with a Schedule 1 Drug
Despite such exciting possibilities, discovering whether cannabinoids can cure certain cancers will likely take years. Most cannabis studies to date have been conducted as preclinical trials, which means they have only been tested on animals. The next step is studying cannabinoid effects in humans.
Another issue for scientists is the gray area of legalization. Although legal in 28 states and the District of Columbia, cannabis is illegal according to federal law. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies cannabis as a Schedule I illegal drug, a designation that adds barriers to those who want to study it. Nevertheless, determined researchers are working with various federal agencies to conduct their research legally.
Cannabinoids Approved for Treating Cancer Patients
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not recognize the cannabis plant as medicine; however, the agency has approved two medicines created from synthetic cannabinoids. Both medicines are pills that that prevent or treat nausea caused by chemotherapy. It should be noted that scientific studies and patient testimonials indicate that herbal cannabis has proven to have better results than synthetic. Many cannabis manufacturing facilities specialize in medical marijuana for just this purpose. Additional studies have indicated cannabinoids can reduce pain and anxiety and improve sleep, which can also benefit cancer patients.
It’s important for all patients to consider the side effects of cannabis before consuming it in any form. While smoking hazards are not yet clear, some users experience rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or depression from cannabis.
Certainly, rigorous clinical trials are needed before cannabis manufacturing facilities are able to distribute cancer-fighting cannabis meds, but a potential cure for cancer is worth the wait.
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