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Can cannabis help cancer patients achieve an effective relief from pain and side effects of chemotherapy? Can this herb kill cancer cells? Cancer, its symptoms, as well as adverse side effects of conventional treatment belong among the primary reasons why people turn to medical cannabis.

So far, there have only been a few clinical studies that would confirm some of the claims which have sprung up around cannabis in this context. However, a growing body of pre-clinical evidence suggests that cannabis has not become a part of the treatment of thousands of cancer patients without a reason.

Thanks to research on isolated human cells and animals, we now know four ways of how cannabis kills cancer cells. These include:


1. Antiproliferative
It was discovered that substances found in cannabis (specifically certain cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD) slow down the proliferation (growth, reproduction) of different types of cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer or lung cancer.

2. Antimetastatic
Studies suggest that cannabis prevents cancer cells from spreading and attacking healthy tissues.

3. Antiangiogenic
In laboratory trials, some cannabinoids successfully prevented the development of new blood vessels in tumor cells. Thanks to the fact that a tumor is not supplied with blood, the tumor cells begin dying.

4. Proapoptotic
The fourth way of how cannabis manages to kill cancer cells in trials is triggering cells’ suicide. The treatment using cannabinoids simply forces cancer cells to kill themselves.


Cannabis against different types of cancer

Current scientific knowledge shows that medical cannabis is more suitable against different types of cancer than others. Unfortunately, lab rats cannot fully replace clinical human trials. That being said, the results of many tests on the effects of cannabis on cancer show surprising promise.

Here we list only a few of cancer types that have reacted best towards cannabis treatment in pre-clinical environment.


1. Brain cancer
Earlier studies on rodents and human cells showed that cannabinoids prevent growth, spreading and migration of glioma cells. Glioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer which occurs in the brain and spinal cord. One of the first clinical studies on humans (performed primarily in Spain by Professor Manuel Guzmán) showed hints of a successful treatment of glioma using cannabis extracts.

2. Breast cancer
The greatest advances have so far happened in the research of glioma, however, scientists across the globe are having success in the study of breast cancer as well. According to the results we have so far, it seems that CBD is more effective against breast cancer cells than THC. The anti-cancer effects of CBD were demonstrated for the first time in 2006, when researchers found that this cannabinoid slows down the growth of certain breast cancer cell lines.

3. Leukemia
In early 2017, a study performed at St George’s, University of London revealed that applying cannabinoids after chemotherapy leads to an increased mortality of leukemia cells.

The research team found out that both THC and CBD boast anti-cancer effects, however the best results were achieved when these substances are applied after chemotherapy, not before.

4. Lung cancer
Although it may seem paradoxical, animal trials and comparative studies on humans found out that substances present in cannabis may help kill cancer cells in lungs. For example, a 2008 study published in the journal Oncogene found that THC suppresses the genes which allow tumor cells to create blood vessels, an effect that can causes the death of a tumor due to a lack of a supply of blood.

5. Prostate cancer
Both THC and CBD show some preliminary effects against prostate cancer cells in lab conditions.

6. Skin cancer
Despite the lack of convincing human trials when it comes to treating different kinds of tumorous skin conditions using cannabis, pre-clinical findings suggest that cannabis can indeed work effectively against this type of cancer. A 2014 study, published in Life Sciences, revealed that THC successfully reduced tumor growth in mice with melanoma.


Cannabis and the symptoms of cancer

Whether cannabis really does kill cancer cells in humans, or not, many patients use it to find relief from unpleasant and often debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, as well as symptoms directly linked to cancer. Cannabis helps cancer patients primarily with the following symptoms:

  1. Nausea and vomiting
  2. Pain
  3. Insomnia and lack of appetite
  4. Anxiety, depressions and overall quality of life


What’s next?

Information presented in this article is only a small sample of the huge discussion about the effects of cannabis on cancer. Due to the lack of clinical human trials, no scientist can say with absolute certainty that cannabis is an effective cure for cancer that has the same effect on every human. Regardless of this fact, an ever-growing number of patients all over the world are including cannabis at least in their palliative treatment.