Cannabis in the treatment of cancer

Cancer is a common pathology that affects different organs and systems. Cannabis may be used as a complement to cancer treatment for three purposes:

Cannabis in the treatment of cancer to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy

The benefits offered by cannabinoids include improvements in nausea and vomiting, stimulation of appetite, relief of the tenderness caused by some chemotherapy and radiotherapy and improvements in the general discomfort common to such treatments.

Cannabis in the treatment of cancer to relieve symptoms of the disease and/or its impact at different stages

In this case the benefits are oriented towards two objectives:

  1. Therapeutic complement during the disease to treat loss of appetite, pain (metastatic or other), sleep disorders, effect on quality of life and mood.
  2. Palliative use, essentially to achieve the same benefits but in terminal stages of the disease. Here the psychoactive effect of THC is particularly important, helping patients with feelings of anxiety in the terminal stages of many diseases. The feeling of wellbeing, relaxation and detachment from reality are a relief for the patient and a comfort for next-of-kin who do not have to see their relative suffer.

Cannabis in the treatment of cancer as an anti-tumoural agent

The third application of cannabis and cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer is related to three important actions:

  1. Determination of the apoptosis ("suicide") of tumour cells without affecting healthy ones.
  2. Inhibition of the blood-vessel formation factor by reducing the supply of nutrition to the tumour,
  3. Inhibition of the cell migration factor by reducing the potential for propagation and metastasis.

All of these actions have been demonstrated in cancers of animal and human origin. There are also anecdotal reports of its effect in reducing tumours. However, sufficient studies have yet to be carried out to determine the dose required for it to be effective. At this time, what can be said is that the effectiveness of protocolized treatments for different cancers –such as breast, prostate, brain and colon cancer, among others– are increasing, but the isolated effectiveness of cannabinoids is less than that of standard treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment).

To sum up, in the treatment of cancer, cannabis and cannabinoids can be used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, some symptoms of cancer, palliative and anti-tumour treatment, and they are recommended as part of a comprehensive oncological approach.