Marijuana & Cancer

Marijuana has been used in herbal remedies for centuries
Difference between Marijuana and Cannabis

Marijuana is the name given to the dried buds and leaves of varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant, which are grown in tropical climates areas across the world mostly commercially. It is known by various names such as  pot, grass, cannabis, weed, hemp, hash, marihuana & ganja etc.  Marijuana has been used as herbal remedies for centuries. Most of scientists have identified many biologically active components in marijuana. These are called Cannabinoids. So far two best components  including chemicals delta-9-tetrahy drocannabinol (often referred to as THC), and cannabidiol (CBD) have been discovered so far. 

At this time, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists marijuana and its cannabinoids as controlled substances. This means that no one can legally prescribe, possesses, or sell under whole or crude marijuana (including marijuana oil or hemp oil) unless approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical use. However use of marijuana to treat some medical patients, is legal under respective state laws.

Dronabinol, a pharmaceutical form of THC, & a man-made cannabinoid drug called nabilone are approved by the FDA to treat some conditions.


Different compounds in marijuana have different actions in the human body. For example, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) use to  relieve   pain and nausea, reduce inflammation, and can act as an antioxidant also have some naegative affect over people. Cannabidiol (CBD) can help treat seizures, can reduce anxiety and paranoia, and can counteract the negative affect caused by THC. Different cultivars (strains or types) and even different crops of marijuana plants can have varying amounts of these and other active compounds. This means that marijuana can have different effects based on the strain used.

Affects of Marijuana on Human Body:
  • When taken by mouth, such as in baked goods, the THC is absorbed poorly and can take hours to be absorbed. Once it’s absorbed, it’s processed by the liver, which produces a second psychoactive compound (a substance that acts on the brain and changes mood or consciousness) that affects the brain differently than THC.
  • When marijuana is smoked or vaporized (inhaled), THC enters the bloodstream and goes to the brain quickly. The second psychoactive compound is produced in small amounts, and so has less effect. The effects of inhaled marijuana fade faster than marijuana taken by mouth.
Marijuana & Symptoms of Cancer

A number of  studies on smoked marijuana found that it can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.

Some studies have found that inhaled  marijuana can be helpful in treating  neuropathic pain (that is pain caused by damaged nerves). Studies revealed that smoked marijuana helps to  improve    food intake in HIV patients.

According to few studies, people who take marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to feel less pain medicine.

More recently, scientists reported that THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD slow growth or in some cases kill few types of cancer cells. Some animal studies also suggest certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce spread of some forms of cancer germ in human body.

There have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans and more studies are planned. While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease. Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.

Possible Harms of Marijuana

Marijuana can also pose some harms to users. While the most common effect of marijuana is a feeling of euphoria, it also can lower the user’s control over movement, cause disorientation, and sometimes cause unpleasant thoughts or feelings of anxiety and paranoia. In case of smoked marijuana delivers THC and other cannabinoids to the body, but it also delivers harmful substances to users and those close by, including many of the same substances found in tobacco smoke.  Marijuana plants come in different strains with different levels of active compounds, it can make each user’s experience very hard to predict. The effects can also differ based on how deeply and for how long the user inhales. Likewise, the effects of ingesting marijuana orally can vary between people. Also, some chronic users can develop an unhealthy dependence on marijuana.

Cannabinoid Drugs

There are 2 chemically pure drugs based on marijuana compounds that have been approved in the US for medical use.

  • Dronabinol (Marinol is a gelatin capsule containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that’s approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy as well as weight loss and poor appetite in patients with AIDS.
  • Nabilone (Cesamet is a synthetic cannabinoid that acts much like THC. It can be taken by mouth to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy when other drugs have not worked.

Nabiximols is a cannabinoid drug still under study in the US. It is a mouth spray made of whole-plant extract with THC and cannabidiol (CBD) in an almost one to one mix. It’s available in Canada and parts of Europe to treat pain linked to cancer, as well as muscle spasms and pain from multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s not approved in the US at this time, but it’s being tested in clinical trials to see if it can help a number of conditions.

Affect of Cannabinoid drugs on Cancer Symptoms

Based on a number of studies, dronabinol can be helpful for reducing nausea and vomiting linked to chemotherapy. Dronabinol has also been found to help improve food intake and prevent weight loss in patients with HIV. In studies of cancer patients, though, it wasn’t better than placebo or another drug (megestrol acetate). Nabiximols has shown promise for helping people with cancer pain that’s unrelieved by strong pain medicines, but it hasn’t been found to be helpful in every study done. Research is still being done on this drug.

Side effects of Cannabinoid Drugs

Like many other drugs, the prescription cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, can cause side effects and complications. Some people have trouble with increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure (especially when standing up), dizziness or lightheartedness, and fainting. These drugs can cause drowsiness as well as mood changes or a feeling of  comfortableness.  They can also worsen depression, mania, or other mental illness. The patients taking nabilone are reported, having some hallucinations. The drugs may increase some effects of sedatives, sleeping pills, or alcohol, such as sleepiness and poor coordination. Patients have also reported problems with dry mouth and trouble with  memory. Older patients may have more problems with side effects and are usually started on lower doses.

People having  emotional illnesses, paranoia, or hallucinations may find their symptoms are worse when taking cannabinoid drugs.

Talking to your doctor about what you should expect while taking one of these drugs. It’s a good idea to have someone with you when you first start taking one of these drugs and after any dose changes.

American Cancer Society & Marijuana Use

The American Cancer Society supports the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients, and recognizes the need for better and more effective therapies that can overcome the often debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment. The Society also believes that the classification of marijuana as controlled substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration imposes numerous conditions on researchers to conduct scientific study on cannabinoids. Federal officials should examine options consistent with federal law for enabling more scientific study on marijuana. American Caner society also suggests that medical decisions about pain and symptom management should be made between the patient and his or her doctor, balancing evidence of benefit and harm to the patient, the patient’s preferences and values, and any laws and regulations that may apply. 

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the Society’s advocacy affiliate, has not taken a position on legalization of marijuana for medical purposes because of the need for more scientific research on marijuana’s potential benefits and harms. However, ACS CAN opposes the smoking or vaping of marijuana and other cannabinoids in public places because the carcinogens in marijuana smoke pose numerous health hazards to the patient and others in the patient’s presence.

Reference: www.cancer.org

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