Cannabinoids and Cancer
The stone-cold truth
Published: March 27, 2013
I got a good bit of reaction to my last piece on cannabis and cancer, so I want follow up on it before moving on to other subjects. Obviously, many folks out there are suffering and seeking relief, but I don’t want to peddle false hope; there is already too much of that going on. However, if you already have a death sentence hanging over your head then you pretty much have nothing to lose.
One of the major medicinal advantages of cannabis, the clinical name for marijuana, is the absence of significant and unintended side effects (no major harms) associated with its medicinal use ¾which is a lot more than can be said for many pharmaceutical drugs that come with a laundry list of side effects, which sometimes include death.
That said, the website of the National Cancer institute has recently added a page titled “Cannabis and Cannabinoids” [cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient/page2]. The information on that page cites preclinical studies that indicate the following “antitumor activity” of cannabinoids (the active substances in the marijuana plant):
• Studies in mice and rats have shown that cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.
• A laboratory study of delta-9-THC in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) cells showed that it damaged or killed the cancer cells.
• A laboratory study of cannabidiol in estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells.
It’s not about just a toke or two:It’s no wonder that people who have been told they are terminal are willing to try cannabis in an attempt to save themselves. However, it is important to note that neither smoking, vaporizing nor eating cannabis-infused brownies alone can deliver an effective dose of cannabinoids to have the kind of effect patients are looking for from the plant.
That’s where something like Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil comes in. It’s a highly concentrated cannabinoid extract that Simpson and others claim has wondrous results, including its ability to cure many different cancers.
I can’t independently verify that claim, but when used along with conventional cancer therapy it seems to help. After my last Higher Ground column about cannabis and cancer, a 66-year-old San Francisco woman named Michelle Aldrich contacted me. Aldrich, and her husband Michael, have been longtime marijuana activists and received the High Times magazine lifetime achievement award in June 2011, so she’s obviously predisposed to have a favorable outlook about the herb, but her story is very compelling.
Aldrich was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011. Further testing revealed lung cancer, three cancerous lymph nodes, a spot on her kidney and inflammation in her colon (three polyps) ¾Stage 3A poorly differentiated non-small cell metastatic adenocarcinoma of the right lung with bulky lymph node involvement ¾in January 2012.
Her main tumor was 30 by 31 millimeters. The five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is about 25 percent. Her doctors recommended that she undergo chemotherapy. They would have added radiation except her lymph nodes were too close to her trachea for that. The goal was to shrink the lymph nodes enough so doctors could operate and remove two lobes of her right lung. Aldrich agreed to the course of treatment but was up front with her medical team that she was going to take what she called Milagro Oil, a variation of the Simpson extract, along with their recommended course of action. In fact, she put together a complete holistic approach to dealing with her cancer.
“I needed to set a new course. A course correction,” she said in a talk she gave at the sixth annual Women’s Visionary Congress in July 2012. The talk was adapted and published in the spring 2013 edition of O’Shaughnessy’s, a journal focused on medical cannabis.“I needed to change my destiny. I did not want to die of lung cancer. I would do everything possible to restore my health: diet, chemo, acupuncture, and cannabis oil. I knew I had a wonderful support group and a dream team of doctors.”
The oil she took contained 63 percent THC — she says it didn’t get her high — and she also used a CBD tincture. Aldrich’s diet was strict: no dairy, sugar, wheat, alcohol or meat, except chicken once a month. She said she ate a lot of fish, especially salmon.
Aldrich started chemo in early February and had the last of four courses on April 5, 2012, although she continued taking oil until mid-May. An April 17, 2012 CT scan showed the tumor had shrunk by 50 percent. On May 10, 2012, a PET scan showed no discernible cancer and her lymph nodes had completely shrunk. She had surgery to remove the lymph nodes and the remains of the tumor which was “a thin rim surrounding a necrotic core.” In other words, it was dead. Aldrich still suffered some of the bad effects of chemo such as nausea and loss of appetite, but in the end her primary doctor was amazed at the result.
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