In June, Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize some form of marijuana, and nine states in total have now decriminalized the drug altogether. These changing policies toward cannabis aren’t just good news for those who use the drug recreationally – or who are impacted by discriminatory drug laws – they vastly expand treatment options for those who suffer from a variety of chronic conditions, and even potentially deadly diseases such as cancer.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved cannabis as a cure for cancer, several scientific studies suggest cannabinoids could one day have a role in the treatment of the disease. And, already, researchers and patients are seeing improvements in symptom and side effect relief with the use of cannabis.
Here are five ways cannabis is changing the treatment of cancer.
In a European study published July 30 in Oncogene, mice with pancreatic cancer who were treated with a combination of cannabidiol (CBD) and chemotherapy survived nearly three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone. This finding is especially significant considering the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer remains at about 5% and has not changed substantially in the past 40 years, study authors noted.
Of course, human trials with CBD and chemotherapy are needed. The good news is that may happen very soon in the UK since the chemical is already approved for use in clinics, the study’s lead researcher, Marco Falasca of Queen Mary University of London, said in a news release. “If we can reproduce these effects in humans, cannabidiol could be in use in cancer clinics almost immediately, compared to having to wait for authorities to approve a new drug.”
Treatment of Side Effects
While chemotherapy may be effective in killing cancer cells, the side effects from this treatment can leave patients with nasty side effects that, thankfully, CBD can help mitigate. “Nausea and vomiting, appetite issues, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia—those sorts of things that are associated either with cancer or chemotherapy, those things are very well treated with cannabis,” Harvard-trained Holistic Care expert Jordan Tishler, MD, who’s a leading expert on Cannabis therapeutics, told NPR station WBUR.
A systematic review of 30 randomized controlled trials involving 1,138 patients found that cannabinoids were more effective than placebo in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea. Researchers also concluded CBD could be advantageous in preventing potentially devastating drug interactions. “To be able to suggest a single agent that could hold benefit in the treatment of nausea, anorexia, pain, insomnia, and anxiety instead of writing prescriptions for 5 or 6 medications that might interact with each other or with cancer-directed therapies seems advantageous,” study authors wrote.
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It’s for that reason Newsweek labeled cannabis a “wonder drug” when it comes to the “horrors of chemo” in 2015. And while a majority of the evidence to support use in cancer patients is anecdotal, “A 2014 poll conducted by Medscape and WebMD found that more than three-quarters of U.S. physicians think cannabis provides real therapeutic benefits,” Newsweek reported. “And those working with cancer patients were the strongest supporters: 82 percent of oncologists agreed that cannabis should be offered as a treatment option.”