According to the National Cancer Institute, there'll be an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer in 2015 alone. The World Health Organization even has a grimmer number: new cases of cancer will rise to about 22 million in the next two decades. Cancer has become one of the most burdensome diseases to ever plague modern society.
In August 2015, former President Jimmy Carter announced that he has become one of the latest people to face the burden of this disease and the subsequent horrors associated with its therapy. The CNN article notes that the former president had a surgery last May to remove a "small mass" on his liver, only to find out after several tests that the mass turned out to be Stage IV melanoma, a type of cancer that develops in the cells that produce the skin pigment, melanin.
This news came on the heels of another news article that details the benefits of medical marijuana to people who are facing the horrors of chemotherapy. Not exactly the kind of therapy former President Carter opted for. However, the benefits of medical cannabis are worth emphasizing, given the range of undesirable side effects of cancer therapies, particularly chemotherapy.
Perhaps one of the most popular applications of medical marijuana is its use in reducing nausea and vomiting, a common side effect of chemotherapy. In the US, two drugs based on marijuana compounds have been approved for medical use. The first is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active cannabis chemical that takes on a capsule form in Dronabinol (Marinol®). This drug has been approved by the FDA since 1985 to treat nausea and vomiting. Interestingly, Dronabinol also stimulate appetite, helping you improve your food intake and maintain a healthy body weight, which allows you to function better and tolerate the effects of therapy. Similarly, Nabilone (Cesamet®), a synthetic cannabinoid, is also used to treat nausea and vomiting when no other drugs work.
Another common application of medical marijuana is in its use to relieve pain. The evidence that supports its beneficial effects on a wide range of pain disorders is well established. Thus, if you're feeling cancer pain, medical cannabis could be a welcomed part of your treatment regimen. In fact, a research published in 2008 done by Dr. Mellar Davis, Director of Research of the Harry R. Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine, assessed Nabilone's efficacy in treating nausea and vomiting as well as in relieving pain by reviewing available treatment trials and other published literature on the subject. The research shows that while the drug is not as effective in acute pain, it has benefits in alleviating neuropathic pain.
Further, a new drug, Nabiximols, a mouth spray that contains equal amount of cannabidiol (CBD) and THC, has been used in many countries to treat neuropathic pain. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany are a few of the developed countries that approved the use of this drug in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) spasticity.
Cancer and chemotherapy will also take its toll on your mood. Many patients report taking the downward spiral to anxiety and depression, which makes cannabis a good antidote because of its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. In a study headed by Mateus Bergamaschi from the University of Sao Paulo, it is found that CBD reduces the anxiety of participants subjected to a simulated public speaking test. The clinical trial of this study involved 12 participants with social anxiety disorder (SAD), who received 600 mg CBD; 12 participants with SAD who received placebo; and 12 participants without SAD were used as healthy control.
A team from the University of Mississippi, headed by Abir T. El-Alfy, also conducted another study in 2010, which sought to assess the antidepressant-like effect of a form of THC and other cannabinoids on mice. The study's findings reported that phytocannabinoids exhibit antidepressant-like effects in animal models.
While numerous studies provide evidence in the efficacy of medical marijuana in alleviating the undesired side effects of chemotherapy, the real controversy lies in its benefit in treating cancer itself. So far, the medical community is divided on this issue; but current studies abound to establish the cancer-fighting activity of cannabis. A 2009 study conducted by a research team at Complutense University and University of Anglea in the UK, headed by Dr. Peter McCormick, induced human breast tumors on mice to find out if THC will inhibit the growth of the tumor. The findings show that THC exhibited anti-cancer properties.
There's wealth of scientific data and anecdotal evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis in treating cancer-related symptoms and common side effects of chemotherapy. Furthermore, there's an explosion of further scientific studies geared towards providing evidence that medical marijuana may be the wonder drug that many cancer patients have been waiting for.
Back in 1979, former President Jimmy Carter ruffled some feathers following his controversial stance in decriminalizing medical marijuana, which makes it even more regrettable that he won't have easy access to it while undergoing cancer therapy. This is because while Haleigh's Hope Act, Georgia's medical cannabis law, was enacted recently, it falls short for many patients with debilitating conditions. Granted, the law may be a step in the right direction, but patients from Georgia, including the former president, will still have to go through hurdles to access medical cannabis.