During a lifetime, approximately 1 in 3 people will develop some kind of cancer. Of these, slightly more than 1 in 5 people will die from it (American Cancer Society). Although science has led us to a greater understanding of how the disease develops and progresses, there are still many gaps in our understanding of the pathology. Currently the most common methods of treatment include what is referred to as a “slash and burn” approach; this is when the cancer is first surgically removed and then killed through the use of toxic chemicals that are characteristic of chemo treatments.
To put this in perspective for you, before the discovery of antibiotics, bloodletting and amputation were common practices for prevention and treatment of infection (HemOnc Today). Although these crude treatments may have had a slight positive impact on patient outcomes, they mostly reveal that people of the pre-antibiotic era had only a rudimentary understanding of infection. Once the cause of infection was more clearly identified, and a better understanding of how it spreads and proliferates throughout the body was developed, more effective treatments were discovered and implemented.
Unfortunately even with all the scientific advancements of our time, our current understanding of what causes cancer and how and why it spreads throughout the body is still hazy. According to Google, cancer is defined as a “disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body”. The basics of our understanding of the disease, is that at some point for an unknown reason the cell loses its ability to control its division and differentiation process.
In a normally functioning cell the lifecycle can be divided into four phases, with three of these phases containing checkpoints (Campbell). In a healthy non-cancerous cell if something goes amiss and the cell is fails to properly function it will enter a non dividing state referred to as G0 and eventually undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death)(Campbell). For cells that become cancerous, these safeguards fail and the cell continues to divide and become differentiated. Another characteristic of the cancerous cell is that they cease to exhibit density-dependent inhibition; this is when a cell stops dividing after reaching a space is filled (Campbell). Cancerous cells that become malignant also cease to exhibit anchorage dependency; meaning malignant cancerous cells, unlike normally functioning cells, do not need to be attached to a substrate in order to divide (Campbell).
Unfortunately, because cancer cells are not foreign in origin often times they go unnoticed by the immune system. If these masses are not removed surgically or shrunk through treatments such as chemotherapy, they can get in the way of normal organ and body function which often times leads to death of the afflicted individual.
Fortunately, however, there is hope through the use of an alternative method of treatment. Instead of cutting out the cancerous cells or chemically burning them to prevent them from growing or spreading, new research supports the use of cannabinoids found in marijuana to boost the immune system’s ability to identify cancer cells and induce apoptosis (Hill).
Basically, Marijuana extracts and oils contain cannabinoids such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), that when ingested or injected directly into cancerous sites begin to work on cancerous cells to bring about their death. These cannabinoids bring about cell death by attaching themselves to CB1 and CB2 receptor sites found on cells, which activate the central nervous system and immune system, respectively (Hill). When this occurs, for a reason that is still unclear to researchers, cancerous cells begin to increase their synthesis of ceramide; the chemical responsible for self-destruction or apoptosis of the cell (Hill). Normal cells in the presence of THC and CBD do not increase their ceramide production and there for are not negatively affected by these cannabinoids. As ceramide levels increase within the cell a cascading series of events leaves the cell unable to produce ATP, get nutrients, and it inhibits pro-survival pathways (Hill).
There have been several scientific studies done on how this unjustly taboo plant helps to prevent, treat and cure cancer, unfortunately however, most of these experiments have only been conducted on mice. In one of these such studies conducted in 2000, and published in the journal of Nature Medicine, it was found that of rats with brain tumors that were injected with synthetic THC, one third had tumors completely eradicated, while another third had their life extended by around six weeks (Arementano).
Unfortunately there is a lot that must be considered before more clinical trials can be conducted. When proposing new treatments, especially ones that are derived from a plant that has had a long history of negative political attention, can pose many obstacles in terms of ethics. However, it is time we start objectively considering the possibility that Marijuana, and the extracts that can be derived from it, may hold the keys to the cure we’ve been searching for. It’s time for us to put the politics and false taboos behind us, and let the science speak for itself.
American Cancer Society. “Lifetime Risk of Developing and Dying of Cancer”. 2014. Web. 11 May. 2014.
Campbell. “Biology. 9th edition”. Campbell, Neil A. & Jane B. Reece. 2010. Benjamin Cummings.
HemOnc Today. “Bloodletting: an early treatment used by barbers, surgeons”. Healio. 10 Feb. 2010.
Web. 11 May. 2014. .
Hill, Dennis. “How Cannibis Oil Works to Kill Cancer Cells”. 2014. Web. 11 May. 2014.
Arementano, Paul. “Cannabinoids As Cancer Hope”. Norml. 2014. Web. 11 May. 2014.