During the last decade, the public view on cannabis has changed in the United States and many other countries. Patients who have shown extraordinary results treating cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and many other diseases have become a workhorse in the fight for cannabis legalisation all over the world.
How to Understand Cancer and its Treatment with Cannabis
Cancer is a disease that consists in anomalous cells that divide uncontrollably, until they reach other tissues, causing metastasis and high morbimortality rates. This disease can also be defined as the disruption of an organised system by which cells are altered, interfering with the programmed process of apoptosis—or “cell suicide”—and bringing about this lethal illness.
The high incidence rate of cancer and the financial and human losses caused by this pathology are the reason why, during the second half of the 20th century, oncologists focused on adjuvant therapies, in addition to treatments to remove tumours and destroy any remaining cancer cells. Among these supplementary treatments, we find cannabis-derived products, which—according to many studies—produce a beneficial effect for cancer patients and an improvement in the quality of life of chemo patients.
Chemotherapy: Adverse Effects and Cannabis
“Chemotherapy” is a popularised name that refers to cancer treatments that intend to destroy malicious cells using chemical agents. These kinds of treatments are usually very aggressive, as drugs reach the whole body, making no distinction between tumour cells and normal cells—which is why they bring about so many adverse effects. The most frequent adverse effects are nausea and vomiting, accompanied by bone marrow suppression or myelosuppression, resulting in a weakened immune system, hair loss, a sense of fatigue, and a decrease in appetite.
Traditional Treatment and the Therapeutic Effect of Cannabis
The traditional treatment of chemo-induced secondary effects always targets symptoms: antiemetic or anti-vomiting medications are needed to counter the effects of intravenous corticosteroids. Fatigue, hair loss, and appetite loss are harder to treat.
THC use has proven effective to prevent chemo-induced nausea, vomiting and appetite loss. Regarding nausea and vomiting, THC activates CB1 receptors in the brain regions that mediate vomiting, while appetite increase is associated with the stimulation of CB1 receptors located in the hypothalamus. All this, added to its effects on mood and sleep quality, makes cannabis derivatives a very useful ally to improve the quality of life of patients going through chemotherapy.
Towards a New Cancer Treatment Paradigm
In their book “Cannabis Medicinal, La Guía Completa” [Medical Cannabis, the Complete Guide] (2021), Argentine physicians Celeste Romero and Marcelo Morante share some studies and patients’ experiences with cannabis during their chemotherapy treatment, showing outstanding results. A 2011 study carried out at the Complutense University of Madrid analysed the combined effect of temozolomide and THC in an animal model for glioblastoma and showed that the joint application of these two compounds produced a higher antitumor effect than when used separately.
Doctors recommend using sublingual oil and resin from strains containing more THC than CBD, as well as vaporised flower—a really useful rescue choice because it acts faster and more safely, as it does not interact with the liver.