Marijuana, cancer and you

I know what’s gonna happen when my pot-smoking readers say when they see I’ve written an article about marijuana: they’ll think, or say, “I knew he called himself the ‘Chronic’ Scientist for a reason.” And they’ll think the same thing every time I write an article about weed. And the thought of that amuses me.

It’s hard to imagine a person in America who doesn’t at least know someone who smokes pot. Hell, anywhere in the world. Lots of people take it for recreational purposes, and growing numbers of people are using it medicinally. There are numerous cases of cannabis successfully treating the symptoms of some of the world’s worst diseases.

And then there are the unfounded claims, such as cannabis being a cure for cancer, and maybe even AIDS.

Before taking on the claim that marijuana cures cancer, let’s talk about the active ingredients in marijuana, specifically THC and CBD.

THC, trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly just known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component, or cannabinoid. This is what gives recreational smokers the “high.” It also treats nausea and vomiting in patients receiving chemotherapy.

CBD, or cannabidiol, has a wide scope of potential medical applications. It has been shown to be effective in treating epilepsy and schizophrenia. It lacks the psychoactive qualities of THC.

An orally administered medication with 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD was approved by Canadian authorities as Sativex to treat pain from multiple sclerosis (MS).

Contrary to popular belief, THC and CBD are not the only active ingredients in marijuana; there are over 113 cannabinoids that can be found in it.

A claim that “cannabis cures cancer” was further exacerbated by this study that showed that cannabinoids inhibited the growth of tumors in laboratory tests. However, this is not proof that marijuana will cure your cancer. These experiments were done in cell cultures in petri dishes, and in mice. Many more studies need to be made before anything conclusive can be said about “cannabis cures cancer,” one way or another. Consider this excerpt from a journal article on the NIH website titled  “The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation.”

Animal cancer models in which tumors are artificially induced have been the basic translational model used to study key physiological and biochemical properties in cancer onset and propagation and to evaluate novel treatments. Nevertheless, significant limitations exist in the models’ ability to faithfully mirror the complex process of human carcinogenesis. These limitations are evidenced by the high (among the highest of any disease category) clinical failure rate of cancer drugs. (

The article goes on to say that “the high clinical failure rate in drug development across all disease categories is based, at least in part, on the inability to adequately model human diseases in animals and the poor predictability of animal models.”

Aside from being a woefully premature thing to say, is there anything really wrong with claiming cannabis cures cancer? Yes, if it diverts a patient’s treatment plan from the proven traditional methods of treatment.

So does cannabis have any effect on cancer? Not the cancer itself, but it is helpful in the treatment of cancer symptoms and with the side effects of chemotherapy. Cannabis helps with improving the patient’s quality of life, and you can thank the THC for that. In conjunction with proven cancer treatments, cannabis does help the patient. But we cannot rely on it alone.

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