With around 30% of all Americans developing cancer at some point in their lives and its relatively highly fatality rate, the onus has been on the medical research industry to discover ways to help patients manage their symptoms and achieve remission.
In this context, the scope for medical marijuana in cancer treatment has expanded in recent years as regulations surrounding general use have eased in various states across the United States.
Part of this drive has centered on the objective of making patient lives easier and more comfortable. It’s here that medical marijuana has emerged as a promising mode of treatment.
Over years of research, we’ve discovered the medicinal properties of marijuana—especially cannabidiol (CBD)—and its fundamental role in treating various conditions and symptoms, including the pain associated with cancer.
While tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has traditionally faced some resistance given its psychoactive properties, even this compound may have scope for cancer patients in mitigating some of their more debilitating symptoms.
How is medical marijuana used at present?
While the FDA has not approved cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition, a few cannabinoids—compounds of cannabis that activate specific receptors—like dronabinol and nabilone are approved for the treatment of certain symptoms of cancer. THC, for instance, has demonstrated a potential ability to reduce nausea, inflammation, and pain as well as act as an antioxidant.
CBD, in turn, has demonstrated potential when it comes to treating anxiety, seizures, and paranoia, as well as providing a balance against the high caused by THC.
Recent research also indicates that when smoked, medical marijuana for cancer treatment may have the effect of mitigating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Perhaps more promisingly, there’s evidence that THC and CBD may be able to slow the growth of, or even kill, certain cancer cells. While this evidence is limited to laboratory studies at present, animal studies seem to confirm that various cannabinoids have this ability.
What’s important to note here is that the evidence so far points to medical marijuana’s ability to manage certain symptoms of cancer and reduce them; not provide a complete cure.
These treatments also need to complement more mainstream options, like chemotherapy, to demonstrate a potentially positive effect on a patient’s health.
What does the future of the medical marijuana industry look like?
When it comes to the more widespread use of medical marijuana for cancer, its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance has prevented research that could explore its full potential as a treatment.
In the immediate future, we anticipate greater lobbying for fewer restrictions—in line with the recent string of legal concessions made for marijuana use in general—that will help researchers conduct more in-depth studies.
Beyond just research, however, we also anticipate a rise in medical marijuana-related services like endocannabinoid DNA testing, which is where genetic specialists test an individual’s DNA to make recommendations on strains, dosages and even specific ratios across CBD and THC for the treatment of certain conditions, potentially even cancer.
By working with patients and their medical teams, it is likely that this kind of specialized support can be used to create personalized medical marijuana plans.
Alongside this, we can also expect to see a rise in CBD consultation services that provide individuals experiencing various conditions with support in finding the right CBD and THC treatments.
While this will certainly depend on the regulations in place across each state, it may be a more achievable reality for individuals who are interested in marijuana’s potentially curative properties.
Medical marijuana for cancer treatment is promising but there’s a long road ahead
While we remain excited by the possibilities of medical marijuana, mainstreaming its use as part of cancer treatment will require more research and buy-in from regulatory authorities and the healthcare industry.
At present, CBD and THC are useful in addressing some of the side effects of chemotherapy and the other debilitating symptoms of cancer.
With certain cannabinoids already used as part of these strategies, it may just be a matter of time until additional compounds take center stage and highlight the curative benefits of medical marijuana.