Can Medical Marijuana Treat Prostate Cancer?


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The use of medical marijuana for prostate cancer is causing more men to look into this controversial treatment. One of the most common medical uses of marijuana is for cancer symptoms and the side effects of treatment such as chemotherapy, but studies on people who have used the drug are proving that marijuana may also have some anti-tumor effects. Twenty-eight states plus Washington DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana as people have fought for the right to legally access the medicinal benefits of this plant.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana comes from the leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. There are 66 biologically active components in the cannabis plant called cannabinoids. This group of compounds can be found in both species of Cannabis sativa L. and Cannabis indica Lam. The most well-known and most powerful cannabinoid is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).

How Does Medical Marijuna Help Prostate Cancer Patients?

Marijuana is taken by mouth or smoked. The THC in marijuana can help relieve pain and help patients sleep. It stimulates appetite and help control nausea and vomiting for patients undergoing chemotherapy or symptoms of radiotherapy. Research has found that the reduced anxiety, sedation, and euphoria from cannabinoids could help certain cancer patients and situations, but this could also be distressing for others.

Oil made from cannabis may be effective at shrinking prostate cancer tumors, making medical marijuana for prostate cancer a possible treatment for the disease and not just the symptoms.

Cannabinoids have been found to activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system. The highest concentration of cannabinoid 2 receptors is located on B lymphocytes and natural killer cells, which suggests they play a possible role in immunity and helping fight diseases like cancer.

In an abstract in Pubmed it states that, “Various reports have shown that cannabinoids (the active components of marijuana and their derivatives) can reduce tumor growth and progression in animal models of cancer, in addition to their well-known palliative effects on some cancer-associated symptoms.” The studies were based on tumors in mice, but there have not been studies in humans.

Other Health Benefits of Marijuana

Medical marijuana has been used to treat conditions such as glaucoma, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders (including epilepsy), HIV, AIDS, severe nausea, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, arthritis, persistent muscle spasms, cachexia, motion sickness, and debilitating diseases that interfere with basic life functions.

Side Effects of Marijuana

Researchers reviewed many studies and found that smoking marijuana delivers harmful substances that could increase lung diseases and certain types of cancer. Because marijuana contains many active compounds, the drug cannot provide consistent effects unless they isolate individual components. Marijuana may cause rapid heartbeat and short-term high blood pressure.  Long-term use is associated with emphysema. Marijuana should not be used within two weeks of a scheduled surgery. Some people do not like mental and emotional side effects such as short-term memory loss, sleepiness, or the inability to concentrate.

Studies on Medical Marijuana for Prostate Cancer and Other Cancers

Because Marijuana is illegal in the Federal US, it is hard to get proper clinical studies on this medication. In terms of prostate cancer, results from a study at the University of Wisconsin suggest that cannabinoid receptor agonists could be developed as a treatment for prostate cancer.

A study at Harvard University found that marijuana has an anti-tumor effect. The study was on mice that had been injected with human lung cancer. They injected the mice with THC for three weeks. They found that the THC in marijuana cut common lung cancer tumor growth in half and inhibited the ability of the cancer to spread. There was a reduction in cancerous lesions on the lung by 60%. The group was compared to a placebo.

In recent discussions, scientists reported that THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol) can kill or slow the growth of certain cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes. Some studies involving animals also suggest certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce spread of some forms of cancer. The problem is that these substances have not been tested in humans. At this time there is not any scientific evidence from US controlled studies in humans that cannabinoids can cure or treat cancer in people.

In 2008, a team of scientists in a combined effort between Spain, France, and Italy conducted laboratory tests that they published in The Journal Of Clinical Investigation. The researchers showed THC as a cure for brain cancer as well as had the ability to terminate other cancer cells in the body. They found that THC inhibits cell death and tumor metastasis while not affecting and maybe even protecting normal cells.

What Is the Legal Status of Medical Marijuana?

Marijuana is a controlled substance that is classified as a Schedule I agent (which means that it is a drug with increased potential for abuse and no known medical use).

Legal Facts about Marijuana:

  • By federal law, the possession of marijuana is illegal in the United States.
  • Several states have medical marijuana laws that allow medical use of cannabis.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
  • Cannabinoids are chemical components of cannabis. Some cannabinoids, such as oral medications dronabinol and nabilone, are prescription medications approved for the treatment of cancer-related side effects.

Laws define marijuana as, “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds, or resin. It does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of the plant which is incapable of germination.”

States and Districts with Legalized Marijuana (as of November 2016):

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California (passed recreational use November 2016)
  • Colorado (medical and recreational use)
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts (passed recreational use November 2016)
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada (passed recreational use November 2016)
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington (medical and recreational use)
  • Washington DC

The actual allowed uses vary by state, so be sure to find out the laws in your area before lighting up or ingesting. Some of these states may have passed laws but do not have programs up and running yet, and others are on the way. Several other states have passed laws that allow for the use of cannabis extracts that are high in cannabinoids but low in THC.

The rules and amounts that as person can carry vary by state. Patients and caregivers can cultivate the plant in some states. Home cultivation is not allowed in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania or the District of Columbia. A special license is required in New Mexico. In Arizona, patients can cultivate only if they live 25 miles or more from a dispensary (when they applied for their card). Patients can only cultivate in Massachusetts if they have a hardship waiver. In Nevada, patients can cultivate if they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary, cannot reasonably travel to a dispensary, or if none of the dispensaries in their county are able to supply the strains they need. Doctors cannot prescribe Schedule I agents under federal law, but they can give oral or written recommendations (some state require written documentation), and some state require users to carry ID cards. Check the laws in your state, as they are changing all the time.

How Do I Get Medical Marijuana?

If you live in one of the states in which marijuana is legalized, you can find out the specific laws in your state about growing or buying, and find out whether you need a license or documentation in writing from your doctor. If you don’t live in a state where it is legal, you would have to decide if acquiring the drug illegally is worth it to you. Everyone living in the US has the option of using FDA-approved prescription drugs dronabinol and nabilone.

References for Medical Marijuana for Prostate Cancer:

Marijuana Growers Page Medical Marijuana for Prostate Cancer

National Conference of State Legislature State Medical Marijuana Laws 7/28/2014

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