Lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma are cancers of the blood. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, more than 1.2 million are either living with or in remission from a blood cancer. They account for 10% of new cancer cases in the US each year. The good news is that these cancers have significantly improved with new therapies. The majority of people will survive more than 5 years now. Ironically, often the more aggressive of these malignancies the better they respond to chemotherapy.
I have the good pleasure of knowing Hayden Fouke of Inverness Florida. He runs Nature Coast Cannabis Enterprises which is a non profit organization that seeks to promote medical cannabis and industrial hemp. What gives him the great enthusiasm for this venture is that he is a cancer survivor and he attributes this to medical marijuana. Over 10 years ago, at the age of 69, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and began chemotherapy for it in 2008. Not for cure but just to try to control its growth and spread. Hayden also began using medical marijuana and has now well exceeded his life expectancy and is also measuring as low as you can go for his tumor markers. Hayden is just one of many people who anecdotally have experienced cancer suppression with cannabis.
Another well known story is that of Rick Simpson, a Canadian who fell off a ladder at work and had an head injury. He suffered with dizziness and tinnitus afterwards and was treated vigorously by his physician, but nothing seemed to help. That is, until he discovered marijuana. Years later, he developed skin cancer on his arm and neck. Rather than seek surgery, he treated it topically with cannabis oil and in 4 days it was gone. Rick Simpson became a major advocate of this extract and to this day people still use his simple recipe to make Rick Simpson oil (RSO).
There are a lot more anecdotal stories about cannabis curing cancer. Cancers ranging from gliomas (brain cancer) to pancreatic cancer to basal cell carcinomas. But what to believe? Why so many anecdotes but no clinical trials? This is because marijuana and all its derivatives have been categorized as a Schedule 1 drug in this country since 1972. The federal government and DEA have shut out the possibility of research on patients and if you do a google search you find traditional sources often say, “Although there has been some indication that marijuana might be useful for (insert disease), there have been no clinical trials and therefore it cannot be recommended.” Its a catch 22.
No one will argue that medical cannabis is extremely useful for cancer patients because it increases appetite, decreases nausea with chemotherapy, alleviates pain and elevates mood. Nothing works better. There are lots of very expensive drugs including Marinol (which is a synthetic THC ) but patients report nothing works as well as the natural plant.
But does cannabis really suppress/ kill cancer too?
There have been some really promising findings now coming out of research, mostly from other countries. It has been found that the marijuana plant contains over 100 different molecules called cannabinoids. THC and CBD being the two best know ones. Our bodies have receptors for these molecules in the brain, nervous system GI system and lymphatics. Yes, cancer cells have receptors for cannabinoids too. It appears that when cannabinoids bind to cancer cells, they impede growth of the tumor, starve its blood supply and lead to cancer cell “apoptosis”. This means the cancer cells self destruct. These qualities have been well documented in the laboratory.
Here is an example of a paper published by the International Journal of Oncology last year with the title “Anticancer effects of Phytocannabinoids used with chemotherapy in leukemia cells can be improved by altering the Sequence of Administration.” This study showed that cannabis had significant anticancer effects on leukemia cell cultures and when cannabis was used along with chemotherapy, the cancer inhibition was even more remarkable. The mixtures of the different cannabinoids like what come from natural plant worked better than pure isolates of THC or CBD. This is a pretty amazing finding. Not only did it show that cannabis works, but it demonstrated that it is the mixture of the cannabinoids like what comes from the natural plant that work best. But you can bet pharmaceutical companies are hot on this trail. The problem for them is the most effective medicine is the whole plant, and they can’t patent that.
Back to lymphoma and other cancers. These patients automatically qualify for medical cannabis in Florida. We see patients with all kinds of cancer in our clinics, some with newly discovered cancers that will need chemotherapy soon. Some with cancers in remission, some probably cured but with continuing symptoms that the patient wants to address. I don’t think it’s too far off when clinical trials will be done and cannabis will be found to cure or lessen the impact of cancer growth. In the meantime, I encourage people to read up on this new science and consider we may have been snubbing, for the last 80 years, one of the best medicines we have.
Robert C. Goethe, MD
Board Certified Anesthesiologist