The Power of Cannabis for Cancer Treatment and Side Effects
Plus Other Medicinal Herbs that May Offer Support
On February 4th, the world collectively takes a day to raise awareness about cancer and its impacts, improve education about the disease, and expedite action to work against it in an initiative known as World Cancer Day. Led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the campaign’s goal is to work together to “...reimagine a world where millions of preventable cancer deaths are saved and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equal for all - no matter who you are or where you live.”
In support of World Cancer Day, we invite you to join us in exploring the research behind using cannabis for cancer treatment and treatment side effects. Read on to hear from members of our LEVO Love Club about their experiences with using cannabis for cancer and to learn more about the healing powers of medicinal herbs and herbal infusion.
Cannabis for Cancer: What We Know
Cannabis has been used in medicine for thousands of years. Though it was federally scheduled in the 1970s and remains a Schedule 1 drug today, research has slowly continued, especially internationally, and is mounting in support of its medicinal benefits, particularly when it comes to using cannabis for cancer treatment and treatment side effects. Here’s what we know so far.
Cannabis for Nausea and Vomiting
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is the nausea and vomiting (or emesis) that can set in minutes to days after chemo treatment. Preclinical research suggests that the functions behind nausea and vomiting may be controlled by endocannabinoids through the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is one of the main systems cannabis’s medicinal compounds interact with.1
As a phytocannabinoid that interacts with the ECS, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been studied as an antiemetic for chemotherapy-induced vomiting. Conclusive research still needs to be done, but clinical comparisons have shown THC to reduce chemo-induced vomiting better than a placebo.2
Cannabis for Appetite Stimulation
Hinging off nausea and vomiting is the loss of appetite, a common side effect of cancer treatment. Loss of appetite from cancer and/or chemotherapy can last anywhere from a day to several months and can lead to weight loss, something that can influence how a patient responds to cancer treatment. Like emesis, it’s believed that the ECS regulates feeding behavior. Specifically, its CB1 receptor may be involved with the brain’s motivational and reward aspects of eating. THC loves to stimulate the CB1 receptor, and several animal studies have documented its stimulating effects on appetite and ability to increase food intake.1
Mice studies have also noted that increased levels of anandamide, a naturally-occurring endocannabinoid, enhance appetite.1 Cannabis’s other well-known phytocannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), has been shown to increase levels of anandamide in the brain, so it may have an effect on appetite, though research is still needed on that front.4
Cannabis for Pain Relief
Nausea, vomiting, and related stress can cause a lot of pain for cancer patients, as can nerve damage caused by chemotherapy. The pain experienced from nerve damage is known as neuropathic pain and is usually difficult to treat. Fortunately, using cannabis for cancer treatment and its related neuropathic pain is becoming a promising option as research expands.
CBD has been found to protect against chemo-induced pain by stimulating serotonin receptors. It’s also important to note that CBD hasn’t been shown to reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy, which adds to its potential as a pain-reliever for cancer patients. THC can also help mitigate neuropathic pain by its activation of CB1, which can weaken pain signals processed by the brain.5
Cannabis for Protecting Against Tumors
Perhaps most important is cannabis’s potential to protect against the development of certain types of tumors. One two-year study in mice and rats found THC decreased incidents of hepatic adenoma tumors (tumors that aren’t cancer) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC—a type of liver cancer). It also noted a decrease in incidents of benign tumors like polyps.1
Another study done in vitro (in test tubes) looked at CBD’s effects on cancer and found it blocked the survival of estrogen receptor-positive and estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cell lines. On top of that, a different study looking at lung cancer found CBD decreased cell cancer invasiveness in lung cancer cell lines.1
Using Other Medicinal Herbs for Cancer
With all these benefits of using cannabis for cancer gaining evidence, it’s no wonder people are turning to cannabis to help with their treatment. Research behind using other medicinal herbs for cancer is gaining traction as well, and some household spices may also offer serious benefits to cancer patients. Let’s take a look at just a few.
- Basil has antioxidant, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antitumorigenic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
- Cumin has a component called thymoquinone (TQ) that has been reported to exhibit antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and chemopreventive properties.
- Garlic and its components may lower the incidence of breast, colon, skin, uterine, esophagus, and lung cancers according to preclinical models.
- Rosemary has been shown to protect against oxidative stress in humans, and evidence suggests it can slow or prevent chemically-induced cancers.
- Saffron has antitumorigenic properties, with evidence suggesting it can inhibit cancer, particularly chemically-induced skin carcinogenesis.6
Like cannabis, further research behind these and other herbs is still needed, but most have been used in medicines for thousands of years, so the benefits researchers find aren’t surprising. Of course, with some side effects still unknown, it’s important to first talk to your doctor about using medicinal herbs for treatment and how they may interact with you and your current medications.
Benefits of Herbal Infusion
Taking what we know about using cannabis and other medicinal herbs for cancer and applying it to everyday life can be tricky, especially because you don’t necessarily want to just bite into raw cannabis. (Or garlic, for that matter!) The good news is, with the process of herbal infusion, you don’t have to.
Members of the LEVO Love Club dealing with cancer have shared stories of using this promising research and their LEVO II to create their own herbal infusions, like 1:1 THC to MCT oil syringes or cannabis capsules. Many members mention using their machine to create herbal infusions that help with headaches, body aches, and nausea related to cancer and chemotherapy.
Herbal infusion makes it easy to incorporate botanicals, including cannabis, into your diet because you can create infused oils to use in everyday recipes. You can easily infuse basil or other herbs into olive oil to use in cooking or salad dressings, or create your own cannabis edibles by quickly whipping up some cannabutter. With herbal infusion, the opportunities to add medicinal herbs to your everyday life are easy and endless—you can even create your own sublingual cannabis oil to add to your daily routine.
Using Cannabis for Cancer Key Takeaways
Research behind using cannabis and other medicinal herbs for cancer and cancer treatment is growing, but there’s still a lot to be done. Here are the high notes:
- Conclusive research still needs to be done, but clinical comparisons have shown THC to reduce chemo-induced vomiting better than a placebo.2
- Loss of appetite from cancer and/or chemotherapy can lead to weight loss, something that can influence how a patient responds to cancer treatment.3 Several animal studies have documented THC’s stimulating effects on appetite and ability to increase food intake.1
- CBD has been found to protect against chemo-induced pain by stimulating serotonin receptors. THC can also help mitigate neuropathic pain by its activation of the ECS receptor CB1, which can weaken pain signals processed by the brain.5
- A two-year study in mice and rats found THC decreased incidents of hepatic adenoma tumors (tumors that aren’t cancer), hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC—a type of liver cancer), and benign tumors like polyps.1 Another in vitro (in test tubes) study found CBD blocked the survival of estrogen receptor-positive and estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cell lines. A different study found CBD decreased cell cancer invasiveness in lung cancer cell lines.1
Other herbs have also shown effectiveness against cancer, like saffron’s potential to inhibit chemically-induced skin carcinogenesis. Plants were humans’ original medicine, so it’s not surprising that researchers are finding so much potential in herbs. While we wait for science to catch up, we can harness that potential through the power of herbal infusion and make natural medicines a part of our everyday lives.