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Medicinal cannabis is now legal in 38 states and counting. Canada, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Norway, Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands have also legalized cannabis as medicine. In as much as marijuana use is gaining mainstream acceptance, the safety of its components has remained a controversial subject. However, a new study has revealed that marijuana is well tolerated in patients suffering from a type of brain cancer that is known as glioblastoma.
Medical marijuana refers to using bioactive components in cannabis (cannabinoids and terpenes) to treat medical conditions. A search through the PubMed database reveals thousands of studies that have been conducted to investigate the therapeutic potential of cannabis. From preliminary evidence, medicinal cannabis can treat pain, inflammation, sleep disturbances, refractory epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, anorexia, multiple sclerosis, hormonal imbalance, and glaucoma, among others.
Marijuana and Cancer Therapy
Researchers are now looking into the potential of cannabis in cancer therapy. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, effectively suppresses chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and increases appetite. THC and cannabidiol (CBD) plus other cannabinoids and terpenes help to fight pain and inflammation.
Cancer patients may enjoy the following benefits from marijuana:
- Reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Improve appetite
- Reduce cancer pain
- Improving sleep
New evidence is also suggesting that cannabis has tumour-suppressing properties. CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids may inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cells and enhance the effectiveness of the administered first line of treatment. THC has also shown antitumor activity that is mediated through the CB2 receptor and a cytokine-dependent pathway.
Marijuana may offer the following antitumor benefits:
- Inhibit tumor growth
- Reduce the risk of metastasis
- Trigger tumor cell apoptosis
Larger randomized clinical trials are needed to establish any antitumor benefits that may be achieved from medicinal cannabis.
Is Marijuana for Cancer Safe?
The safety of marijuana has sparked heated debate in different quarters, especially when a vulnerable population is involved. A 2018 report by the World Health Organization declared that CBD is safe for human consumption, even when it is administered in high doses. When side effects occur, they are generally due to the interactions when CBD is given concomitantly with other drugs. Marijuana tolerance following a high dose of THC has not been investigated.
One study has shown that marijuana is well tolerated in patients suffering from Gliomas. Gliomas are intracranial tumors that make up one-third of brain tumors. Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive form of brain tumor with a median survival rate of one year. Below are details of the study.
THC Is Well Tolerated in Patients With High-Grade Gliomas
A phase 2 randomized clinical trial has shown that high dose THC is well tolerated in patients with aggressive gliomas. The participants were adults who had been diagnosed with high-grade gliomas. They had no history of drug abuse or vital organ damage (liver or kidney). The average age was 53 years. A single high THC dose was administered each night. A retrospective control group was set up as a control group. The results showed the following:
- 11% has a reduction in disease
- 34% were stable
- 16% had a slight enhancement of disease
- 10% had progressive disease
- Side effects included dry eyes and mouth, tiredness, and drowsiness
- There was no serious adverse effect reported
The study above demonstrates the safety of marijuana in a vulnerable patient population; cancer patients. Marijuana has shown a lot of promise in cancer therapy, both in symptom management and tumor suppression. This study lays the foundation for future clinical research that can investigate the therapeutic potential of cannabis as an anticancer agent.