Williams Cancer Institute

Cannabis Products

Certainly you cannot delve too far into alternative and natural treatments for cancer without running into people saying that marijuana cures cancer. I have many patients who have tried cannabis products, but I have not personally run into any that were cured from using them. I wanted to know where these people who have been cured are. I attended some meetings with people discussing all the benefits of cannabis. The stories they described sounded promising, at least in the way they tell them to the lay public. But I did not see the real evidence. Many of the cancers they were citing great benefits for are ones that people can generally live with for many years, if not a decade or more. So, stating that a person was still alive after one year of cannabis use was not the results I was looking for.

In regards to the immune response, research has shown that there are receptors in the immune system for compounds found in cannabis called cannabinoids. There are two receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB2 is found on immune cells. In an article published by Rieder, et al. May 20, 2009 in the journal of Immunobiology, called “Cannabinoid-induced Apoptosis in Immune Cells As a Pathway to Immunosuppression,” they describe that cannabis inhibits the immune system and increases regulatory cells. These are not good things when it comes to cancer. So, how can there be all this information out on the internet that cannabis cures cancer, or at least helps? Certainly it seems helpful with symptoms of cancer, but that does not mean it makes cancer better.

In my research I found that there was a general overall lack of good studies on this topic. At the European Society of Medical Oncology, September 2017; Taha, et al. presented a poster titled “The effect of cannabis use on tumor response toNivolumab in patients with advanced malignancies.” In their study there were some concerning results related to cannabis use and cancer, showing patient using cannabis with the immunotherapy Nivolumab had a greater than 50% reduction of their response rate (37.5% versus 15.9%).

On the positive side, there have been animal studies with CBD and a human study with THC directly injected into tumors that have had some promising results. Also, cannabis is a complex mixture, containing numerous compounds. It is verypossible that specific isolated extracts may have benefits. We still have a lot to learn in regards to cannabis products and the treatment of cancer. Our group plans to conduct further studies looking at the immune response from intra-tumoral injection of cannabis extracts. However, it does seem clear that cannabis products can help with certain cancer-related symptoms, but this is more for palliation and not for actual treatment of the cancer.

Reference: Taha, T. a.-S. (2017). The effect of cannabis use on tumor response to nivolumab in patients with advanced malignancies. Annals of Oncology, 28, v544.

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