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Medical Update on Cannabis & Cancer: Proven Benefits & Unfounded Claims

February 17, 2019 in General News

Cannabis and it’s Role in Treating Cancer

It is without doubt that medical cannabis, and cannabinoid-based drugs are some of the most therapeutically versatile medicines currently being studied. Clinically beneficial effects from cannabis and/or cannabinoid drugs, have been observed in everything from Crohn’s, MS and neuropathic pain to Epilepsy, PTSD and cancer-related nausea.1–8 Despite this, there seems to be no shortage of unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and even outright fabricated claims about what cannabis and cannabinoids are capable of that draw false conclusions and promote potentially harmful narratives. This is especially true when it comes to cannabis and cancer.

National Cancer Prevention Month

The cure for cancer has eluded researchers for decades and the reality is, it is very unlikely there will be one, single cure since cancer itself is made up of a host of different conditions, each with an unique mechanism of pathogenesis and disease progression . While we may not have a cure for this deadly disease at the ready, we certainly have quite a bit at our disposal to help treat it, including cannabis. With February being National Cancer Prevention month, this article hopes to clear the smoke and distinguish true medical marvel from “click-bait” and myths, however well intentioned they may be.

FDA Approved Synthetic Cannabinoids for Chemotherapy Induced Nausea

The FDA has approved two drugs for the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in patients who have not responded to standard therapy. They are Dronabinol (synthetic THC marketed as Marinol) and Nabilone (completely synthetic cannabinoid compound).6,9

There is Currently NO Evidence Cannabis “Cures Cancer” or “Kill Cancer Cells”

Perhaps the most common misconception or falsehood propagated along cannabis Facebook groups is the belief that cannabis or its constituent’s definitely cure cancer. The truth is, there are exactly zero clinical trials that support this at all. Many of those who claim the contrary are referring to studies done in petri dishes or, more professionally stated, in vitro or in “cell culture”. Indeed, in these tightly controlled settings, THC has shown to modulate cell cycle and attenutae cell proliferation.10 In reality, it’s a lot easier to kill a tumor in a petri dish and lots of substances that don’t cure cancer have been shown to do so. Nevertheless, this is where the research starts with any treatment and there is hope on the horizon.

Cannabis and/or Cannabinoids are NOT FDA Approved For Cancer Treatment

It is important to note that the FDA has not approved cannabis or the 80 or so components (cannabinoids) it contains for use as a cancer treatment. The only cannabinoid approved by the FDA at all is cannabidiol (CBD) in the form of Epidiolex and it is used for seizures resulting from two rare forms of childhood epilepsy, not cancer.11,12 Nonetheless, there are a couple drugs that are FDA approved for the treatment of nausea resulting from chemotherapy, a common, first-line cancer treatment.

Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) & “Phoenix Tears”

While outside the scope of this article, cannabis and cancer cannot be discussed without discussing the individual who first pioneered these claims, and for good reason! Having immense personal success in treating cancer with RSO, he became an advocate for cannabis treatment for those suffering cancer, especially due to it’s high therapeutic index and low toxicity and side-effect profile. Indeed, documented case studies show a dose-response curve that suggested, with significant certainty, that chronic “hemp oil” use reduced tumor size in the patient.13 While the results from patients successfully using cannabis around the world are promising, it simply necessitates the need for high-quality studies even more. While this may be a challenge in the US, new cannabis legislation in Canada may spell out a different story for them!

Nationwide Legalization in Canada Can Change All That

In a recent article, we discussed the scientific and research benefits of the nationwide legalization of cannabis in Canada. (Click here to read more). Indeed, Canada may be the first ones to capitalize on this potential and promise that cannabis has shown as a possible anti-cancer drug. Due to the incredible safety profile of cannabis, it’s possible for the first large-scale studies to emerge from Canada that examine this phenomenon in humans does indeed come out of Canada. 14

Cannabis for Cancer: Lot’s to Offer, Potentially a Lot More to Come

Cannabis is however not a “silver bullet”, “one-size-fits-all” treatment without limitations. To the contrary, cannabis has recognized side effects just like any drug (to read more about the side effects of Cannabis Sativa, click here). However, a plethora of evidence has established cannabis can greatly reduce chemotherapy and cancer-associated nausea, pain, anxiety, depression and a host of other symptoms common in cancer patients. While the jury is still out on whether or not cannabis can categorically kill cancer cells, there is no doubt it very likely can help improve the patient’s quality of life immensely.

To learn more about cannabis & cancer, read our article on Cachexia here!

A Note From the Author

As a biologist and clinical researcher, I believe it is my responsibility to be as objective, rational and educational as I can in hopes of empowering the reader with the best information available. As a medical cannabis advocate, I believe my writing is it’s own form of activism. In regards to this article and the claims regarding cancer and cannabis, there is indeed a lot of controversy and contention. There is many who claim cannabis have remarkable potential to cure cancer and I think they’re exactly right: it has remarkable potential. I believe that the science has come up short, most likely, because there simply isn’t enough of it yet. I believe it is necessary to conduct high-quality, large-scale studies as this claim is certainly worth investigating. In fact, I have a feeling the best, most powerful benefits cannabis have yet to be uncovered.

About the Author: Gaurav Dubey holds his Master’s in Biotechnology, and has publications in the field of stem cell research and transplant medicine. Combining his experience as a scientist with his passion for creative writing and medical cannabis, he actively contributes for several clients in the cannabis industry, includingThe Medical Cannabis CommunityGreen Flower Media, Midwest Compassion Care, and Bloom Medicinals. Recently, he launched his first company, Karmik, LLC, which provides high-quality, evidence-based content marketing solutions. Karmik aims to restore credibility to the internet by publishing resourceful and trustworthy content that empowers the reader with enlightening, science-based information.

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Works Cited

  1. Russo, E. B. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions? Neuro Endocrinol. Lett. 25, 31–39 (2004).
  2. Cannabidiol to Improve Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: (Accessed: 6th February 2019)
  3. Naftali, T. et al. Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study. Clin. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. Off. Clin. Pract. J. Am. Gastroenterol. Assoc. 11, 1276-1280.e1 (2013).
  4. Badowski, M. E. A review of oral cannabinoids and medical marijuana for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a focus on pharmacokinetic variability and pharmacodynamics. Cancer Chemother. Pharmacol. 80, 441–449 (2017).
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  6. Ware1, M. A., Daeninck, P. & Maida, V. A review of nabilone in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Ther. Clin. Risk Manag. 4, 99–107 (2008).
  7. Cannabidiol in patients with seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (GWPCARE4): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 tr… – PubMed – NCBI. Available at: (Accessed: 4th January 2019)
  8. Yarnell, S. The Use of Medicinal Marijuana for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Current Literature. Prim. Care Companion CNS Disord. 17, (2015).
  9. May, M. B. & Glode, A. E. Dronabinol for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting unresponsive to antiemetics. Cancer Manag. Res. 8, 49–55 (2016).
  10. Reuter, S. E. & Martin, J. H. Pharmacokinetics of Cannabis in Cancer Cachexia-Anorexia Syndrome. Clin. Pharmacokinet. 55, 807–812 (2016).
  11. Press Announcements > FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Available at: (Accessed: 8th February 2019)
  12. Do Val-da Silva, R. A. et al. Protective Effects of Cannabidiol against Seizures and Neuronal Death in a Rat Model of Mesial Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Front. Pharmacol. 8, (2017).
  13. Singh, Y. & Bali, C. Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation. Case Rep. Oncol. 6, 585–592 (2013).
  14. Dolgin, E. What legal weed in Canada means for science. Nature 562, 327 (2018).
  15. Lucas, P. Cannabis as an adjunct to or substitute for opiates in the treatment of chronic pain. J. Psychoactive Drugs 44, 125–133 (2012).
  16. Danielsson, A. K., Lundin, A., Agardh, E., Allebeck, P. & Forsell, Y. Cannabis use, depression and anxiety: A 3-year prospective population-based study. J. Affect. Disord. 193, 103–108 (2016).


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