Windsor is buzzing recently about a young child, diagnosed with leukaemia, who was taken away from his parents who balked at being told that he needed chemotherapy immediately and they were wanting, instead, to look into hemp oil.
Here’s my first, and albeit controversial, point.
As much as us parents don’t want to hear it, our children are not our property. We cannot do whatever we want with them. They are individuals who are under protection of the state (read: society) they live in.
We are given provisional custody over them as long we abide by the guidelines of minimal levels of care, which includes not withholding the best, scientifically sound, medical treatments.
I am not a fan of the Children’s Aid Society, having dealt with them before but, in this case, I feel they have done the right thing, as emotional as I feel against them.
Social media is a great way of spreading information. Sadly, a lot of that information is either misinterpreted or completely incorrect. In the case of cannabis as a cure for cancer, we have both.
I will try to make this as short as possible as there is decades worth of information to squeeze into a single article.
Cannabinoids is an all-encompassing term to label numerous complex natural and synthetic chemicals that lock onto the receptors, or protein molecules, on cell surfaces. The two most commonly known are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and endocannabinoids.
There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1, which is mostly found in the nervous system, and CB2, mostly found in the immune system. A third type, known as GPR, is currently being looked into more as very little is known about them.
Cannabinoids, both natural and synthetic, are being researched by hundreds of scientists around the globe as to their effects, both harmful and helpful. They are looking into the effects on many various diseases including cancer. This is done through the International Cannabinoid Research Society.
There are around 200 different types of cancers for humans. Each of these cancers has different causes, different genetics, different prognoses, and different pathophysiology. It should be understood that cancer is not one disease. There is no one cure for cancer and therefore any article, meme, or video claiming something is a cure for cancer should immediately raise a sceptical red flag.
So do cannabinoids cure cancer?
No. But they are very interesting chemicals and show some promise in various areas.
In research with deadly diseases, it is very hard to study the effects of substances in the human body, for a number of reasons. The first is that lab research is not done in the body, so any result that is promising is highly inconclusive as a collection of cells in a petri dish, or a rat, are not human beings. This must be kept in mind, as well, when studies are cited showing a cure.
Secondly, in human trials, you cannot ethically have a control or placebo group, in many instances. To prevent a person from having the best course of action we have evidence for, and to give them a placebo or none at all, is a detriment to their health. The risk is too high. Thus, many human trials are done with terminally ill patients, in very advance stages.
Here too, we do not have a chance for controls and, therefore, the results are not deemed conclusive.
All in all, there are many variables to tackle and, in turn, research moves much slower than people expect it to. It’s not easy and it’s painstakingly long, but it is the best way to achieve the clearest results we can.
Cannabinoid lab research has shown some positive results, such as triggering cell death, preventing cell division, reducing the chances of cancer spreading, and preventing blood vessels from reaching into tumours. The best results from lab and animal studies have come from purified THC, CBD (cannibidol), and JWH-133, a synthetic cannabinoid.
There is also evidence that cannibinoids have an undesirable effect on cancer, as well. They can also cause a tumor to grow and various other effects depending on dosage, as well as preventing the immune system from destroying tumor cells, and even cells developing a resistance.
Clinical trials for curing cancer are in short supply. One study, at the time of writing I could only find one, involved nine patients. This, of course, is a small sample size, so it is limited in its conclusions.
Here highly purified THC was given directly into the brain via a tube. Eight patients showed some kind of response. One patient showed no response at all. All patients died within a year.
Without a control group, though, it’s impossible to tell whether or not it helped extend their lives.
Most cannabinoid clinical trials have concerned its effects on helping with the side effects of other cancer treatments. Research has been done into helping with vomiting, nausea, and dizziness, appetite stimulation, pain management, anxiety, and sleep. Although most seem to be relatively positive, they often do suggest negative side effects.
Most everything else I found claiming a cancer cure with cannibinoids was simply anecdotes and other unverified stories. There was a published case-study of a 14 year old, but being a single person study and with a mixture of compounds, we can’t conclude anything from something so limited.
Quite simply put, the scientific data and research is just not there.
There are a few early stage trials currently underway with patients who have advanced cancers. We shall wait to hear the results.
To conclude, if someone chooses to use unproven alternatives like cannabis/cannabinoids and reject conventional treatment, they could miss out on treatment that may lengthen, or even save, their lives. They could miss out on spending precious time with loved ones.
Also, many of these alternative choices are not covered by insurance and thus come at a high financial cost. Cannabinoids are considered relatively safe, but they are also not without risk.
Until there is clear evidence, it would be best to use conventional treatments.