Let’s rip the off-brand medical adhesive off quickly here: As far as we know, no, cannabis does not cure cancer.  In fact, according to Wikileaf medical advisor Dr. Baran Erdik, molecular, cellular, and histopathologic evidence both in vivo and vitro have plausibly suggested that SMOKING cannabis may cause cancer. But, epidemiological studies have not consistently proven this. The failure to demonstrate may be due to inherent methodological limitations of studies. While there is hope, and it really is more hope than anything, it doesn’t seem likely but it’s also not impossible. Cannabis is, however, extremely effective in a lot of different medical applications, including as a treatment for cancer symptoms and an additional weapon in the overall fight against the disease. As with nearly every cannabis topic, especially one so important and potentially world-altering, the amount of information available is overwhelming. From stoner blogs to the American Cancer Society, it seems everyone is eager to weigh-in with their take on the science behind cannabis, aiming at being the first to prove there is light at the end of the tunnel for cancer patients.

cannabis iStock / gabe9000c

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Claims That Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells Aren't Scientifically Sound

Back in 2015, as a wave of public opinion was swelling and ready to break, a report was released by Politicus USA titled “The US Government’s Department of Health Finally Admits That Marijuana Kills Cancer”.  The root of this article is NCI’s Physician Data Query (PDQ.) It is based on small in vitro clinical trials, but something done or proven in the laboratory does not always correlate to in vivo (in the body). Furthermore, correlation does not prove causation, so this story should have been taken with a grain of salt. The article was an attention-grabber, explaining: “In just the past two weeks, the federal government and NIH have quietly confirmed that cannabis (marijuana) is very effective at killing cancer cells without harming healthy cells like radiation and chemotherapy. In fact, on the NIH website devoted to the hideous disease, Cancer.gov, they published the truth about marijuana and its effectiveness at combatting cancer in a stunning reversal of over four decades of deliberate fear-mongering and propaganda …” The reality of the situation is fairly different than the tone of this article would lead one to believe. The first thing that should be noted is if you search for this article, you will no longer find it on Politicus USA’s site. There are still syndicated versions of the article out there on other platforms, but all links to that story are broken, implying that Politicus took the article down. Whether or not this is due to misinformation in the content can only be guessed at, but it doesn’t bode well for the credibility of the source. Secondly, the only official comment from the American Cancer Society, besides a CYA about the federal illegality of marijuana, is “Dronabinol, a pharmaceutical form of THC, and a man-made cannabinoid drug called nabilone are approved by the FDA to treat some conditions” with those conditions being nausea and vomiting secondary to cancer chemotherapy. The remaining information on the ACS specific marijuana page reviews how THC and CBD can be used each to fight off symptoms but not the root cause.

It's Important To Understand What The Scientific Results ACTUALLY Mean

Over the Shoulder Shot of Senior Medical Scientist Working with CT Brain Scan Images on a Personal Computer in Laboratory. Neurologists in Research Center Work on Brain Tumor Cure. iStock / gorodenkoff
But the article, and others like it, isn’t totally responsible for the chaos that ensued after this discovery, nor is it responsible for the countless people who have claimed various aspects of cannabis have cured their cancer. In fact, the information is actually accurate! As one article puts it, the lack of knowledge regarding scientific processes and their application to real-world use is a major problem in researching such sensitive topics. THC does kill cells in a petri dish, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the same will happen in vivo, so these findings don’t really impact our current understanding of cannabis’ effect on cancer cells. There is a range of methods to effectively kill cancer cells in vitro that don’t apply to the human body. In order for a true medical discovery to be claimed, cannabis, and more specifically, cannabinoids, must be proven to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy ones unharmed in human clinical trials. Unfortunately, this still has yet to be proven.

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So, What Does Cannabis Do For Cancer Patients?

A LOT. Marijuana itself is used for dozens of medical applications, and cancer patients may see some of the biggest benefits of all. In addition to the commonly known pain management and appetite-spurring benefits, marijuana also helps stem nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. One of the lesser-known positives from ingesting marijuana comes from its ability to repair nerve damage. This problem, known medically as Neuropathy, affects cancer patients and is typically characterized by a feeling of weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet. Medical marijuana has been shown to provide relief for those experiencing pain from neuropathy. Marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin Cannabidiol, aka CBD, can also be used to help alleviate side effects in a similar manner, including notable impacts on stimulating patients’ appetites and preventing nausea. Cancer patients who want to use cannabis products to treat their ailments – either directly or specific symptoms, only have a few negative side effects to consider. THC and CBD doses, levels, and strains all work differently, but possible side effects include tachycardia (increased heart rate), hypotension (low blood pressure), conjunctival injection (red eyes), bronchodilation, relaxed muscles, and a potentially harder time digesting food (although the scientific community is still in disagreement on this topic.) Luckily the side effects pale in comparison to the benefits, even currently just as treatment of symptoms, and there is hope for the future.