Does marijuana cure cancer?
March 27, 2015 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Can medical marijuana cure or at least be effective in some capacity in treating cancer?

We're thinking about complementing chemo treatments with medical marijuana. These folks prescribed two different strains in an oil formula and made a bunch of other recommendations (low sugar diet, various other supplements) and seem to be suggesting that these types of medicines, taken as prescribed can have a therapeutic effect. We're thinking about trying it but it's expensive! We figure it'll be about $900/month so it would help us to better understand if THC/CBD can really offer some hope. The reality is that this tumor will likely never go entirely away but if it can be fought off for some time, it would be worth it.

Are there any good studies on using marijuana/cannabis as a cancer treatment?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would say if it helps with the pain/nausea/discomfort you should go for it. But be forewarned that most transplant doctors will strongly advise against it because of the risk of fungal infections. More literature here
posted by z11s at 9:48 PM on March 27, 2015

The only capacity in which cannabis would help is by stimulating an appetite diminished by chemo. No. It does not cure or treat cancer.
posted by tahu363 at 9:49 PM on March 27, 2015 [17 favorites]

I believe marijuana is typically used by cancer patients to deal with the side effects of chemo, not for treating the cancer itself. However, it might be helpful if you clarified why you think there's any possibility that it would treat the cancer itself? (i.e. what did you see/read that made you ask this?) My quick peruse through their web site didn't show any claims that it does. I searched the names of the owners on Google Scholar and it does not appear they've published on the subject.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:51 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

On reread, do you mean that in your contact with the owners they suggested there can be a therapeutic effect? If so, I think it's fair for you to ask them if they can point you to the peer review research on which they're basing that statement. The "About Us" page says that at least one owner is a lover of data, so they should have no problem being asked to back up their statements.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:53 PM on March 27, 2015

Response by poster: To be clear, I'm not asking about the pain/nausea/discomfort side of things and transplant is not an option. They, along with other providers, are definitely suggesting it as a therapy. See the blog/new entry here and the presentation (PDF) here and this blog post using a BBC article. Also, there's a lot of stuff on but I'm having a hard time plowing through all of it and was hoping someone else could give me the cliff notes version. It's not totally out of the blue that they're suggesting this and I don't want to ask them because they're the ones selling the stuff so I don't really think they'd send me the most unbiased summary.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:58 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: And lastly (and then I'll stop thread-sitting), this article in the SF Weekly is really is the thing that got me considering it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:10 PM on March 27, 2015

Neither of the first two links are about any research and I think it's worth noting that the second link (the slide presentation), the list of conclusions includes nothing about marijuana and the cancer itself. The only conclusion there about efficacy is that it reduces side effects. The BBC article (written by a cannabis activist, not cancer researcher) says there are now lots of studies backing this up. These are hard to turn up on Google Scholar because searching for the key terms just gets you everything on reducing chemo symptoms. SO: Contact them again and say "I am considering this and was looking for the research on this, but it's hard to find because everything is on reducing nausea. Can you help point me to some of this research?" You're not asking them for a summary. You're asking them to point you to the peer reviewed research. Even if you can't fully follow the articles themselves you can A) Make sure the journals are legit and not crap B) Make sure the researchers aren't quacks C) If necessary, email a researcher and ask "IANAD, do I understand this article correctly that it concludes that a controlled trial showed therepeutic benefits when using cannabis to treat cancer?"*

* (Not on this topic precisely, but I've contacted researchers who were obviously legit and cited by people who might or might not be legit to basically ask "Is this stuff legit" and received useful responses...obviously don't ask them to explain all the science cause they're busy people, but something that is essentially a Yes/No question should be quick to answer).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:12 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found this article, which states this
"Despite these impressive in vitro and animal model findings regarding the potential anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids, there is still no solid basis for ongoing claims by proponents of highly concentrated cannabis extracts or oils that these preparations can “cure cancer.”Increasing numbers of patients in North America are seeking oils high in THC and/orCBD due to testimonials that patients have used these preparations either topically to eradicate skin cancers or systemically to eliminate non-skin cancers. This has led to a number of patients seeking to forego or postpone potentially curative conventional cancer therapies in favor of self-medicating with high-potency cannabis oils. Many patients claiming to be cured of their cancers have used the products in addition to conventional cancer therapies, thus obfuscating the issue further. Although the in vitro and animal evidence is intriguing,there have not yet been any robust human studies investigating cannabis as an anti-cancer agent that would warrant advising patients to forego conventional therapy in favor of using a high-potency cannabis extract. Patients who chose to delay conventional therapies in hopes of benefitting from a trial of cannabis oil against their cancer risk the possibility of having a potentially treatable cancer become incurable. As the preclinical evidence suggests that cannabinoids might enhance the anti-tumoractivity of conventional chemotherapeutic agents as well as ameliorate associated side effects, the addition of cannabinoid-based preparations to standard cancer therapy should not be discouraged by the treating oncologist."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:27 PM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: It doesn't look like I can login to read the rest of that article but your summary is helpful. We're definitely not considering delaying or foregoing conventional treatment to do solely cannabis.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:35 PM on March 27, 2015

Weed makes you feel good, and feeling good helps you heal. That's about all you can reasonably say. Seriously. Anything else is puffery. Rock on with your weed. But it's not magic.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:39 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is an informative series of blog posts about medical marijuana as a cancer cure by oncologist David Gorski: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. He looks at a number of studies and testimonials, and explains the science in an easily understandable way. I also think his post Why haven't we cured cancer yet? is helpful for understanding the nature of cancers and why developing a "universal" treatment that would work against all cancers is so challenging.
posted by neushoorn at 1:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Heard this yesterday Fresh Air today

Microwaving a bud on a cracker with a thin slice of sharp cheddar or parmesan over the top alleviated chemo side effects for a few people I knew. Takes longer, but better than smoking.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:16 AM on March 28, 2015

The plural of anecdotes is not data. But the theraputic and appetite it brings do measurable improvement to people undergoing cancer treatments.
posted by nickggully at 7:22 AM on March 28, 2015

Best answer: On the page you linked, this is the relevant section:

"Cancer Treatment
No clinical trials of Cannabis as a treatment for cancer in humans were identified in a PubMed search; however, a single, small study of intratumoral injection of delta-9-THC in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme reported potential antitumoral activity.[14,15]"

Here is a link to the article linked at [15]. This is an opinion paper published by a scientist who works in a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department. It provides information that the abstract states could be used to develop preclinical cannabinoid therapies and lead to preliminary clinical testing; so they're saying that at the cell level, they have some ideas about cannabinoid therapies, but nobody has any evidence at the human level yet. This article was published in 2012, and the article linked at [14] is a paper out of the same lab reporting on a very specific, very limited effect with a very small sample of terminal patients. Patients in this study had THC injected directly into their brain tumours.

The rest of the page is about the pain (analgesic), nausea (anti-emetic), discomfort (appetite stimulation, anxiety and sleep) side of things. If this is an accurate representation of the state of the literature (and I think it's fair to trust's lit search), then any legitimate cannabinoid cancer therapies should currently be available only through clinical trials. There is also a section on the site with links to searches for the key therapeutic THC drug keywords that would get you to lists of clinical trials using THC to treat cancer. I had a look at these, and they are all either for pain relief or for identifying cannabis-related cognitive impairment in cancer patients.

I'm not able to read the whole SF Weekly article right now, but on a quick skim I do want to point out that I think it exaggerates the barriers to research using THC. There is a pretty robust literature out there on various drug forms of THC for pain, for example. And keep in mind that while the SF Weekly article is talking about barriers to US researchers, there are lots of researchers in the rest of the world who don't necessarily face the same laws, and none of them seem to be doing this work either.

If you had the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial, that might be worth considering. For this specific product, there does not seem to be any evidence, or any research in progress. Personally, I think that you should consider the anecdotes presented in the SF Weekly article and elsewhere to be marketing materials, and that when deciding whether to try this product, it would be most realistic to consider that there is no scientific evidence that it works.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2015


A lot of the "weed CURES cancer, man!" hysteria comes from Rick Simpson; he is not very authoritative, and big on anecdata. He believes marijuana "cures almost all serious diseases," including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and hemorrhoids.

The whole thing makes me a bit angry. It is snake-oil advocacy that misles very sick people. The message often comes from somebody with a profit motive, or somebody who believes that they are "helping" legitimize marijuana as medicine, or legalization efforts. In my view, marijuana has a lot to offer cancer patients, and they are not helped by people shouting about false claims.

That said, it's still a great thing to have to deal with side effects, and especially valuable as an appetite stimulant. But $900/month is ridiculous. That dispensary's "menu" doesn't even look like it involves a lot of processing. It is very easy to make cannabis capsules. If there is a lot of vomiting involved, if you memail me I'll do my best to pass on what I learned about making cannabis suppositories for a friend undergoing chemo. Unless you have far, far more money than time, there is no reason to pay somebody to put your grass in olive oil for you; these things are very easy to do at home, and there aren't, like, recommended dosages for standardized products where for X stage of Y condition research has shown that patients should be a 6, etc. Reddit has a number of grass subs with info on DIY; /r/treedibles might be of interest.
posted by kmennie at 9:02 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

We're thinking about trying it but it's expensive! We figure it'll be about $900/month

So, I'm no expert in medical marijuana per se. But that sure sounds like way too much money for a month's worth of even the very finest weed products.

Have you gone to a dispensary and spoken to the people there?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:38 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the reading I did in trying to find that article, the reason this place is so expensive is that the "oil" is made from a pound of marijuana per I-don't-remember-the number-but-it-was-a-very-small-amount. I'm not pro or con and I don't even know if that's a reasonable explanation of the cost, I'm just saying that's the explanation I found somewhere or other. It claimed most of the cost was the pot itself, given the huge amounts one would need to get whatever oil dose was recommended.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2015

The problem with the "medical marijuana" industry is that they give the impression that they are prescribing a treatment. However, there really hasn't been any clinical research on the use of marijuana to treat anything, including mental health issues it is often recommended for (depression, anxiety, etc). There haven't been studies on the efficacy, side effects, anything. There are also no standardized, therapeutic dosages. So if the dispensary you worked with gave you the impression that they could actually treat your cancer, I would personally back away from them and find someone who isn't going to milk you for $900 a month worth of snake oil.
posted by bluloo at 10:52 AM on March 28, 2015

In general, the word for people who pursue alternative cancer therapies is "dead."

Any notion that there is a conspiracy against marijuana as a treatment for cancer should immediately brand the person a crank: a patent on a method to process an easy to grow plant into a medicine which reliably and effectively treats a common cancer is a quick trip to billionaire row.
posted by MattD at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: In answer the showbiz_liz, yes. The dispensaries that we've talked to recommended this place. Their costs seem to be in line with a similar group I know of for a similar product.

I've now read the article that If I only had a penguin...linked to and it's interesting. Things like:

There has been an increasing body of evidence over the past decade that
cannabinoids may have a role in cancer therapy. (1, 44-46) Evidence from cell culture
systems as well as animal models has shown that THC and other cannabinoids may
inhibit the growth of some tumors by the modulation of signaling pathways that lead
to growth arrest and cell death as well as by inhibition of angiogenesis and metastasis.

...cannabinoids have been shown to induce apoptosis of glioma cells in culture
and regression of glioma cells in mice and rats by activating CB1 and CB2 receptors. In
contrast, cannabinoids protect normal glial cells of astroglial and oligodendroglial
lineages from apoptosis mediated by the CB1 receptor.

and, mostly significantly
administration of THC and temozolomide (the benchmark agent for the management of
glioblastoma) exerts a strong antitumor action in glioma xenografts, an effect that is also
evident in temozolomide-resistant tumors. (54)

This last one is really the significant one since temozolomide is the chemo that the patient has been taking.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

For $900 a month, which seems awfully expensive, I might look at heading to Washington State and buying the oils there, or buying weed and making your own oils, since marijuana is now legal there. I see you're in California and pot won't be legal in Oregon until July either -- it's a federal offense to take pot across state lines anyway -- but if you are willing to risk doing something illegal, it's not like there is any border patrol or check points to drive from San Francisco to Seattle. I've made the drive straight through in a day with only stopping once for gas.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:43 PM on March 28, 2015

You may be interested in this radio special on medical marijuana in Canada. I'm not sure if use for cancer is covered.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:40 AM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: Follow-up: just went to a presentation by one of the translational medicine specialists in the neuro-oncology dept at the major academic medical centers r in my city. He just got approved for the federal license to study cannabis therapies in mice and says that if his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he would recommend she start using CBDs. He says in his years of treating brain tumors, the long term survivors have a couple of things in common one of them being a positive mental attitude and the other being use of cannabis. He said that it was at least 7 years getting the the federal license and was really excited to be able to move forward with the research. So I'm sure it'll still be years before there are any findings from this but at least there is some legitimate research going on and I feel like my question isn't as crazy as some of you made me feel like for asking!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:28 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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