Cancer and Cannabis: Using Cannabinoids to Improve Treatment

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are the active components of cannabis plants. CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are examples of cannabinoids. CBD is non-psychoactive; whereas, THC is psychoactive and produces a “high”. Marijuana refers to cannabis plants raised for their THC content. Hemp is a variety of the plant that is high in CBD, and only contains trace amounts of THC. Both CBD and THC have a wide variety of applications. Cannabinoid therapy is the use of such cannabinoids for their health benefits.

What are the Benefits of Cannabinoid Therapy? 

Cannabinoid therapy helps our bodies maintain homeostasis, or balance. In other words, it supplements our bodies into working better. Because of this, there are a myriad of different applications for cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are great for your overall health and well-being. Some issues that people address with cannabinoid therapy are anxiety, depression, sleep, pain, inflammation, appetite and more. 

What is Cancer and How is it Treated?

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is defined as “disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.” Cancer is developed due to genetic changes that cause cells to grow and duplicate abnormally. Genetic factors that can cause cancer are:

  • Errors in cell division.

  • DNA damage in cells due to harmful substances like tobacco smoke or ultraviolet rays from the sun.

  • Cancer genes can be inherited from your parents. 

The body will normally destroy harmful cancer cells, but the body's ability to do so decreases with age. Cancer can occur anywhere in the body. The National Cancer Institute reports that the most common cancers are: breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer.

There are many different ways of treating cancer depending on the type.

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells

  • Hormone therapy is used to slow the growth of cancer cells, specifically for cancers like breast and prostate.

  • Immunotherapy helps your immune system to fight cancer cells.

  • Hyperthermia heats the body to high temperatures to kill cancer cells without damaging normal tissues.

  • Photodynamic therapy uses light-activated drugs to kill cancer cells.

  • Radiation therapy kills cancer cells with high levels of radiation.

  • Stem cell transplants are used to help restore the blood cell producing stem cells that may have been destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation.

  • Surgery is used to remove the cancer from the body.

  • Targeted therapy looks at how the cancer cells grow, divide and spread.

Cancer itself and the treatments for it tend to have a variety of side effects. This is a large part of why people seek out alternative treatments. Cannabis has the potential to help the effectiveness of cancer treatment and help side effects. This will be addressed in the following sections.

How can Cannabis Help with Cancer?

CBD Reduces Cancer Cells.

Cannabinoids like CBD have the ability to help with cancer treatment. Studies have shown that CBD is able to both inhibit the growth of cancer cells as well as cause cell death. This means CBD may be used as a treatment for cancer someday. For now, there isn’t enough research to suggest CBD is effective on its own. However, CBD can make a great compliment to other cancer treatments as it has the ability to increase the effectiveness of those treatments.

Cannabis and Cancer Treatments Work Together

There is potential for cannabis and other treatments to work together against cancer. The biggest way that cannabis can help cancer patients is with side-effect management.  The drugs and treatments used for cancer often have negative side-effects. Both THC and CBD have the potential to help with cancer side effects, but it seems that THC works particularly well.

What Side Effects do CBD and THC Address?

THC
    • Pain
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Appetite
CBD
    • Pain
    • inflammation

Dronabinol and Nabilone are the two synthetic THC drugs that are currently approved for treating cancer symptoms. Drobanial is a THC-containing product. Nabilone contains a synthetic cannabinoid that acts similar to THC.

Medical marijuana could be a good option for those who live in states that allow it. You can check to see the legality of cannabis in your state here. Other states have versions of THC that are hemp-derived. However, these products are not currently regulated so it is important to purchase from a trusted source that can provide lab testing information on the safety of their products. It's also critical labs go beyond the basic testing profile and test for heavy metals and contaminants, to learn more about what to look for read our blog, "What is a COA in the World Of CBD."

Are Cannabis Products Safe?

According to the WHO in a 2018 report, “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile”. CBD is considered safe but certain side effects are possible. Possible CBD side-effects are dry mouth, drowsiness, fatigue and diarrhea. Working with your doctor is important especially since CBD can interact with some medications. This is also true for THC.

THC offers many benefits for cancer patients but is also more likely to cause side effects. When using a THC product, it is best to “start low and go slow”. The goal is to find the lowest dose needed to achieve results. Side-effects caused by THC may be due to it being psychoactive. Two things to be aware of are anxiety and paranoia, especially for first time THC users. THC can also cause difficulty with concentration and memory, fast heart rate, dizziness, fainting and headache. Other side effects include dry mouth and increased appetite. However, the latter may be a benefit to those who have decreased appetite from cancer treatments.

Awareness of potential side-effects when starting any new medication is important. This is why they are discussed here alongside the potential benefits. Many cancer patients have chosen to go with cannabis products to help with their treatments. Generally, CBD and THC make going through cancer treatments more tolerable.

How to Choose a Treatment

Whether you are choosing to try CBD or THC, there is a variety of products to select from. Some contain both cannabinoids, like with a Full Spectrum CBD product. Full Spectrum products use the whole hemp plant; hence, you are getting a trace of THC alongside the CBD. THC works as a catalyst, delivering more CBD to your endocannabinoid present. What does this mean? If you are not subject to any drug testing, it is typically best to select a Full Spectrum product. 

There are other options like Broad Spectrum or Isolates that are THC-free. The THC products we carry contain hemp-derived versions of the cannabinoid. The most common being is Delta-8. Delta-8 is very similar to the THC found in marijuana called Delta-9. You can read more about those cannabinoids in our article on The Deltas. Below is a list of different products available with CBD and THC.

  • Smokeables or vaping, inhaling cannabinoids provides the fastest onset

  • Tinctures (oils), another quick relief option that is absorbed under the tongue

  • Edibles, takes time to digest but stays active in the body for longer periods of time

Any of these methods may be used in conjunction with each other. Figuring out your ideal doses for CBD and THC may take a little of experimenting. As stated previously, it is important to seek medical advice when adding cannabis to your treatment. Work with your doctor or an alternative therapy expert to figure out the best options. Additionally, come in or give us a call and talk with us! We are always happy to provide information on our products. We know how to help you find what will work best for you!

 

 
Amber
 
My name is Amber. I am a cannabinoid consultant and columnist for Happy Trails. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology. I enjoy learning about things I have passion for, and my family lovingly calls me a “human encyclopedia”.  Read more about Amber here.  

 

 

References

Cancer Statistics. (2020, September 25). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. (2021, December 15). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq

DiLonardo, M. J. (2021, December 18). Medical Marijuana and Cancer. WebMD. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/medical-marijuana-cancer

Konieczny, E., & Wilson, L. (2018). Healing with CBD: How Cannabidiol Can Transform Your Health Without the High. Ulysses Press.

Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 6, MARIJUANA AND CANCER. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224387/

Pietrangelo, A. (2020, July 8). CBD for Cancer and Cancer-Related Side Effects: Does It Help? Healthline. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cancer/cbd-for-cancer#products

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment. (n.d.). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects

What Is Cancer? (2021, May 5). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer#types

World Health Organization. (2018). CANNABIDIOL (CBD) Critical Review Report.

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