In case you missed the memo, 2018 is the year of cannabis. That’s right, it’s now legal for recreational use in nine states, plus Washington D.C., and is medically-legal in more states than it’s not. #bouttime
When it comes to cannabis and cancer, most people are aware that it can relieve nausea that usually accompanies chemotherapy. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that cannabis might be a powerful agent in actually treating certain types of cancer, like prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in those who have the gland. (We say “might be a powerful agent” because, well, when it comes to cannabis, there hasn’t yet been enough human research to conclude anything with certainty, but there is a LOT of positive anecdotal research and while that’s not really the same as controlled research studies, it’s not irrelevant either.) As research into the medicinal properties of cannabis continues to emerge, it’s possible that approaches to treating cancer, including prostate cancer, will evolve to include this magically healing plant.
HOW’S IT WORK?
For starters, cannabis is a plant (duh). And as a plant, it’s got a whole bunch of beneficial phytochemicals, some of which belong to a class of compounds called cannabinoids. The most known of these is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is psychoactive. The other well-known one is cannabidiol or CBD, which is non-psychoactive. And while these two are the most abundant within the plant—and therefore the most researched thus far—they’re just two of the 113 cannabinoids in cannabis. (OMG that’s so many!!!)
What’s really cool is that within each of us, there’s a biologic system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a physiologic network of receptors and compounds that helps the body maintain homeostasis throughout the body, regulating processes like pain, stress, appetite, etc. And guess what? This discovery (made relatively recently by an Israeli researcher in 1992) also means that each of us actually produce our very own cannabinoids, collectively called endocannabinoids. This was—and is—a crucial component of understanding how and why cannabis can be used therapeutically.
How so? Well, have you ever wondered, or even been suspicious of the fact that cannabis has been heralded as a potential therapy for everything from cancer to diabetes and fibromyalgia to Multiple Sclerosis? There’s growing research that suggests that this wide range of ailments might actually be the result of a systemic endocannabinoid deficiency and therefore, by using cannabis, the individual is supplementing these necessary compounds from an exogenous source, thereby correcting an endogenous deficiency that could be causing their problems. Pretty cool, right?
IS THERE ANY RESEARCH AT CURRENT?
While there haven’t yet been any large scale human studies examining the effect of cannabis on cancer, a 2012 review(1) concluded that there’s enough preliminary evidence to warrant large-scale clinical studies regarding cannabis as a treatment for metastatic prostate cancer.
The authors of that 2012 review incorporated research from 2005(2), which showed prostate cancer cells to have an increased amount of cannabinoid receptors. And since you now know a little bit about the ECS, that means that cannabis could provide these receptors with the missing cannabinoids; it would provide the keys to the lock since the body evidently hasn’t been able to make enough of its own for whatever reason.
Additionally, cannabis might also be helpful for prostate cancer in its relationship to hormones. Most prostate cancer is fueled by the hormone testosterone; in fact, without this hormone, prostate cancer cells can’t grow. As such, one common treatment is androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT), a type of hormone therapy to stop testosterone from being released. Well, guess what? There’s research(3) showing that cannabis has anti-androgenic properties, making it a hot topic in cannabis research. There’s also some evidence(4) out there that cannabidiol (CBD), the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, might inhibit cancer tumor growth by causing cell death and blocking cell growth. #soundsgoodtous
There’s still a lot to learn about how cannabis can help treat prostate cancer, but from what we know right now, it looks pretty promising.
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(1,3) Ramos, Juana, and Fernando j Bianco. “The Role of Cannabinoids in Prostate Cancer: Basic Science Perspective and Potential Clinical Applications.” Indian Journal of Urology, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2012, p. 9., doi:10.4103/0970-1591.94942.
(2) Sarfaraz, Sami, et al. “Cannabinoid Receptor as a Novel Target for the Treatment of Prostate Cancer.” Cancer Research, vol. 65, no. 5, 1 Mar. 2005, pp. 1635–1641., doi:10.1158/0008-5472.can-04-3410.
(4) National Institutes of Health. “Cannabis and Cannabinoids.” National Cancer Institute, 17 Jan. 2019, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/cannabis-pdq/#link/_13.