Prostate cancer affects one in nine men during their lifetime. It’s the most common kind of cancer men face, second only to skin cancer.
Prostate cancer develops mainly in men 65 and older. (It occurs only rarely before the age of 40.) And African-American men are particularly at risk of developing the disease. Though not always fatal, prostate cancer kills more than 30,000 men a year, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society.
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The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland that produces and transports sperm. Prostate cancer is usually confined to the gland at first and typically presents no symptoms right away. This type of cancer can grow slowly and may need minimal or no treatment. But it can also be aggressive and spread quickly, requiring intense medical interventions.
Among alternative treatments, cannabis in general and cannabis oil in particular have been getting a lot of attention lately. But a lack of rigorous scientific human studies means there’s no hard evidence on the benefits of cannabis for prostate cancer. Though some lab-based studies and animal trials show that we may be close to showing definitively that marijuana can indeed help in the fight against prostate cancer. Let’s take a look at what we know so far.
Traditional Prevention & Treatment of Prostate Cancer
According to the Mayo Clinic, you can reduce your risk of contracting prostate cancer by:
- Eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables
- Choosing health foods over supplements
- Doing regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Consulting with your doctor if you have an increased risk of prostate cancer
While symptoms of prostate cancer don’t show up at first, as it advances it may manifest in symptoms such as:
- Trouble urinating
- Blood in semen
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Bone pain
- Erectile dysfunction
With low-risk prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away, or at all—though doctors recommend regular monitoring. But, if it’s more aggressive, possible treatments for prostate cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Freezing the prostate tissue
- Biological therapy
Consuming Cannabis for Prostate Cancer
Prostate.net sums up the dilemma for some who receive a prostate cancer diagnosis on whether to take cannabis as follows:
“What proponents like about cannabis oil is that it is a natural treatment that does not seem to cause harm to other cells in the body and is better tolerated than chemotherapy. Unfortunately, there are few reputable U.S. studies on cannabis for treating humans for prostate cancer. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence however of cannabis oil shrinking prostate cancer tumors while reducing pain, eliminating insomnia, and helping the patients have a general sense of well-being.”
The trouble is, restrictive federal laws prevent researchers from conducting legitimate studies with human subjects. And most of the research so far has concentrated on how well cannabis deals with the symptoms of cancer—not the cancer itself—like:
- Providing relief for chronic pain
- Counteracting the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy
- Reducing nausea
- Improving appetite
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Scientists have reported cannabinoids including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have shown some success in killing cancer cells in laboratory dishes. And some animal studies suggest that cannabinoids may slow the growth and reduce the spread of some kinds of cancer. But, again, studies with humans are needed to verify these results.
However, enough promise has been shown to merit a further look into how cannabis could help prostate cancer patients.
The Sperling Prostate Center (SPC) points out: “Research shows that prostate cancer cells have higher levels of expression of both CB1 and CB2 receptors than normal cells [do]. To put it another way, the cancer cells have a greater affinity for cannabinoids than [that of] normal cells.”
Laboratory studies show that when certain cannabinoids are introduced to cancer cells, three things can happen:
- The prostate cancer cells become susceptible to apoptosis (cell death).
- The male hormones androgens, which are partly responsible for prostate cancer, decrease their receptor activity on the exteriors of cancer cells.
- The number of blood vessels the prostate cancer tumor relies on for support goes down.
SPC cites a 2012 study using prostate cells implanted in both mice and lab containers, and concludes that “non-THC cannabinoids, and CBD in particular, retard proliferation and cause apoptosis of prostate cancer cells via a combination of cannabinoid receptor-independent, cellular and molecular mechanisms.
“Research teams who have published their results with laboratory experiments, both in lab containers and animal studies, are clearly calling for clinical trials with patients,” SPC concludes in a call for action.
If lab studies like this one show that cannabinoids can keep cancer cells from spreading, cut off the cancer cell’s blood supply, and work together with chemotherapy and hormone therapy, then perhaps it’s time to seriously look at how the plant may be able to help the thousands of men who fight prostate cancer every year.
Photo credit: kudla/Shutterstock.com
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