BY RUTH HILL R.N.
Many cancer patients are using cannabis to help manage pain, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects of chemotherapy. If you are in the cannabis industry or just around users of cannabis you most likely came across someone who told you they cured their pancreatic, breast, or prostate cancer using high-dose tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or cannabidiol (CBD).
It is a fact that extensive preclinical research shows that plant cannabinoids most notably, THC and CBD, produce antitumor responses in various animal models of cancer. Medical cannabis patients are consuming whole plant cannabis oil extracts (Rick Simson Oil or FECO), that include hundreds of compounds, many of which also have therapeutic properties. Individuals take titrated doses to achieve one gram of THC per day for ninety days. However, these high doses are unsustainable in most patients causing failure.
Changes in Dosing to Sustain Success
Cannabis specialists in recent years found different formulas to recommend based on weight and type of cancer. Endocrine driven cancers such as breast, ovarian, uterine, and prostate begin with high dose CBD (4:1 ratio of CBD:THC). In contrast, lung, liver, bone, brain, or skin cancers show results with high dose THC (1:4 ratio of CBD:THC). There are also many consultants who see results with a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD. Whichever is used it is best to be under the supervision of a cannabis specialist for proper titration of doses.
Herbal Treatments for Cancer
Jonathan Treasure in his book Cannabis & Cancer likes to compare the body in herbal medicine to a garden. An ecosystem unto itself, a complex network in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Malfunctions can arise from stressors that, if uncorrected, lead to imbalances that, over time, manifest as patterns of disease. Fixing problems, therefore, involves adjustments to the terrain or ground much like the job of a gardener.
In terms of cancer, the host is the terrain or ground in which the tumor develops. Extending Jonathan Treasure’s horticultural theme, cancer could be likened to an invasive weed. Creating an internal “anti-cancer” garden or terrain. Herbs can be used to prevent cancer and inhibit its progression. In the case of chemotherapy killing weeds with poisons and herbicides cause collateral damage and is not necessarily the best way to clear them from a garden.
Red Flags with Cannabis and Immunotherapy
Drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors are a form of immunotherapy that has transformed the treatment of many cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). These immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) attack specific targets and have less severe side effects. ICI are routinely administered as first-line treatments for NSCLC, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. There’s been some concern that for cancer patients adding cannabis is a red flag. Since CBD regulates the immune system, the recommendation was to avoid using high doses (over 50mg/day), of cannabis.
Worries about the potential incompatibility of these two treatments stem from the fact that the cannabinoid receptor CB2 is predominately expressed by immune cells, and its activation may suppress immune function. It’s at least plausible, then, that cannabis might interfere with immunotherapy, instead of helping, it may actually hurt. However, now we know these previous studies included patients with various cancer treatment regimens who were given ICI shortly before death. Under these circumstances, the use of cannabis is often a mere surrogate for high-burden symptomatic disease.
A newly published study in the European Journal of Cancer, however, suggests there may be nothing to fear. “Our data suggest that the use of cannabis concomitantly with [immune checkpoint inhibitors] does not reduce treatment efficacy in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC),” the authors conclude. “With the increasing use of medical cannabis worldwide, this finding is of major clinical importance. But for now, at least, they may offer – as the paper’s very title suggests – a “sigh of relief” to those concerned about cannabis’ role in cancer immunotherapy.
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