CBD, THC AND CANCER
Debbie Stone, LCSW
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is a plant, also known as hemp, that originated from Central Asia, that makes a resin that contains cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemicals that have effects in the central nervous system and immune system. Two of the most active cannabinoids are THC and CBD.
What is the history of cannabis in medicine?
Cannabis use for medicinal purposes dates back at least 3,000 years. It began as an herbal medicine, not for any psychoactive purposes. The use of cannabis slowly made its way to Africa, Europe and finally to America. It was marketed as a helpful substance for its analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anticonvulsant effects.
According to history.com, in 1937, the U.S. Treasury Department introduced the Marihuana Tax Act. This Act imposed a levy of $1 per ounce for medicinal use of Cannabis and $100 per ounce for nonmedical use. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the Act because they felt that there was not enough evidence providing that it was harmful and that this act would impede future research into the medicinal assets.
“In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which for the first time included Cannabis with narcotic drugs. In 1970, with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was classified by Congress as a Schedule I drug. Drugs in Schedule I are distinguished as having no currently accepted medicinal use in the United States. Other Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD, mescaline, and methaqualone” (History.com).
From 1978-1992, patients were able to be placed on a case-by-case basis for the US Government to provide marijuana for medicinal use, Cannabis was distributed by the U.S. government to patients on a case-by-case basis under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug .
What are the effects of CBD on health?
In recent decades, the neurobiology of cannabinoids has been analyzed. The first cannabinoid receptor, CB1, was identified in the brain in 1988. A second cannabinoid receptor, CB2, was identified in 1993. CB1 is the receptor that is found in the nervous system and various other organs such as the glands and the gonads. CB2 is found within the immune system and in the various glands that are associated with this system within the body. Many of the areas in the body possess both CB1 and CB2 to fully function properly.
The following diagram shows a simplistic breakdown of the Human Endocannabinoid System.
What are the ways that CBD can be taken?
CBD can be ingested orally, smoked and vaped. Smoking it enters the bloodstream quicker than when taken orally. There are some studies investigating the use of a spray under the tongue, which would have the benefits of quick absorption without having to smoke the product. With the legalization in several states, there are more available products that contain CBD, including baked goods.
Are there side effects to CBD?
There are some side effects that can result from cannabis and cannabinoids. According to the National Institute of Health, these include:
- Fast heartrate
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle relaxation
- Bloodshot eyes
- Slowed digestion
Cancer and CBD?
With approximately 40% of people being diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime, science continues to research alternatives to the current treatment directives. Synergy is defined as the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects (Wikipedia). The synergy between conventional cancer treatment and, in this case, cannabinoids is gaining popularity in the scientific community.
Some studies, showing the benefits of CBD when given to people with cancer, are as follow:
- Conventional treatment is known to cause nausea and loss of appetite. THC helps to increase appetite and decrease feelings of nausea.
- With some forms of cancer, there is pain. Studies have shown that CBD acts on CB2 receptors, which can reduce inflammation, leading to less pain. Also, THC is shown to act on CB1 receptors that help with pain and nerve damage.
- Antitumoral response. Cristina Sanchez, a biologist in Madrid, found that cancer cells died when exposed to THC. She reported that THC was especially significant in killing off the cells in an aggressive form of brain cancer.
- Some studies show that CB1 receptors, which help to regulate arousal, stress and impulsive behaviors, can be positively altered by introducing cannabinoids.
- Researchers found that cannabinoid receptors are highly concentrated in cancerous prostate cells, making treating with marijuana more effective. This, in part, because scientists believe that the cannabis inhibits tumor growth.
- CB2 receptors are found in the gastrointestinal system, where it has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory response. This is being studied for the potential benefits of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- CB2 receptors also show promise with the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Wikipedia (https://wikipedia.org/wiki/cannabinoid_receptor_type_2#cite_note-pmid21295074), “changes in endocannabinoid levels and/or CB2 receptor expressions have been reported in almost all diseases affecting humans, ranging from cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, bone, skin, autoimmune, lung disorders to pain and cancer”.
There are still many studies that need to be done for ongoing efficacy of the use of CBD for the treatment of various diseases and disorders. If you are interested in becoming involved in any of the ongoing clinical trials, you can be find information online at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), National Cancer Institute (NCI’s) contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).