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What Do Studies Show About Cannabis as a Cancer Treatment?

Wayne Whitehurst December 17, 2021

States with active medical cannabis programs tend to include cancer on their lists of qualifying conditions. Including cancer is an act of compassion, allowing people dealing with a dreadful disease to find some measure of relief. But how effective is cannabis? What do the studies show about using it as a cancer treatment?

Cancer patients can visit sites like Utahmarijuana.org to learn more about cannabis as a cancer treatment. However, actual scientific studies are still hard to come by. Studies have been done, but most of them have been small-scale studies to date. Many have also not been conclusive. It is evident that more research is necessary before definitive conclusions can be drawn.

With all that said, the American Cancer Society has gone to the trouble of looking at some of the studies for the purposes of helping patients understand how cannabis might be useful. Some of what is on their website is summarized in the remainder of this post.

Two FDA Approved Drugs

The first thing to note is that the FDA has approved two cannabinoid drugs for cancer treatment. The first is dronabinol, a drug containing delta-9 THC. The FDA has approved it for use in treating cancer-related nausea and vomiting. The second drug is nabilone. It is also used to treat nausea and vomiting. It contains a synthetic cannabinoid that works similar to delta-9 THC.

Beyond these two medications, the FDA has not approved cannabis or any particular cannabinoids as cancer treatments. They, along with other federal agencies, have chosen to turn a blind eye to those states that have approved medical cannabis programs and included cancer on their lists of qualifying conditions.

How Cannabis Can Help

Moving on to the topic of how cannabis can help cancer patients, the American Cancer Society starts by discussing the FDA-approved medications and their ability to relieve nausea and vomiting. They also mention that a limited number of studies have shown that smoking marijuana can have the same effect as the approved medications.

Studies have also shown that:

  • smoking and vaping cannabis may help reduce neuropathic pain
  • smoking cannabis may help improve food intake
  • cancer patients who use cannabis tend to use less opioid pain medication
  • THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids may slow the growth of cancer or outright kill certain types of cancer cells.

In fairness, other clinical trials dispute the notion that cannabinoids can cure cancer. That would seem to negate the possibility that cannabinoids kill cancer cells. The contradiction is further evidence that more research is needed to fully understand cannabis as a cancer treatment.

Cannabis As a Supplemental Treatment

Reading what the American Cancer Society has to say about cannabis as a cancer treatment leads to the obvious conclusion that the drug should be used as a supplemental treatment. Because there is no proof it can actually cure cancer, cannabis becomes a treatment for relieving the symptoms of the disease and reducing the side effects of traditional treatments.

Ultimately, it is up to patients and their doctors to determine whether cannabis is appropriate or not. Meanwhile, traditional treatments designed to slow the progression of the disease or send it into remission should be considered. Relying exclusively on cannabis to cure the disease is not wise. There is no scientific justification for doing so.

Emerging scientific data seems to point to cannabis as a way to relieve cancer pain, nausea, and vomiting. If that is all it does, it would still be a welcome relief to untold numbers of cancer patients. Perhaps that’s why so many use it.