Medical marijuana and the treatment of lung cancer
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Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.
The treatment options for lung cancer, as with other cancers, are limited. However, research suggests that cannabis may prove an attractive alternative.
UNDERSTANDING LUNG CANCER
Lung cancer is characterized by aggressive tumor growth in the lungs. There are 3 main types of lung cancer:
- non-small cell
- small cell
- carcinoid tumors
Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common of the 3, accounting for roughly 80% of all lung cancer cases.
The lungs obviously play a vital role in the human body. As we breathe, air enters the lungs where oxygen is absorbed and passed into the bloodstream. Oxygen is a vital fuel for our body and without it, our cells cannot function and our bodies eventually shut down.
As we breathe out, carbon dioxide (a byproduct of a variety of different cell activity) is also removed from our system and released into the atmosphere. The lungs are also connected to a network of nearby lymph nodes and the entire lymphatic system.
Lung cancer typically starts in the bronchi. However, they can also form in the trachea, bronchioles, and alveoli. As the tumors grow, they can easily infect nearby lymph nodes and also be spread via the blood or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Lung tumors, like other kinds of cancer, are caused by unnatural cell growth. These cells then combine to form a tumor that continues developing over time.
As the tumor grows it begins to affect the functioning of the lungs, causing symptoms like a persistent cough, chest pain, wheezing, and more. As the tumor spreads it begins to affect other bodily functions as well.
The biggest cause of lung cancer is smoking. Smoke from cigarettes or other substances contains harmful chemicals which damage the lungs. Changes in the lung tissue happen almost immediately when smoke is inhaled. Over time, the damage to the lungs worsens and cells within the organ begin to act abnormally, ultimately leading to cancer formation.
However, it is important to note that lung cancer can also affect people who have never smoked in their life. In these cases, the exact cause of the cancer may be hard to define.
Other factors which may increase the risk of lung cancer include exposure to asbestos or other carcinogens which may enter the lungs via the air, radon gas exposure, or family history.
Lung cancer can be treated with surgery. This usually involves removing the part of the lung which contains the tumor, or even removing an entire lung completely.
Alternatively, treatment may also involve chemo and radiation therapy or the use of targeted drugs.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND LUNG CANCER
Medical marijuana has become a buzzword in the medical industry. While there is still a lot that we do not understand about cannabis and how it affects our bodies, research has shown that the plant has unique medicinal properties.
When talking about cancer, cannabis is often discussed as a solution to side effects from the condition or treatment. This can include pain management, appetite stimulation, or the management of symptoms like nausea and vomiting. However, research also shows that cannabis can have unique antitumor effects.
Some of the first studies exploring the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD on cancer cells date back to the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, medical researchers have been examining the drug’s impact on cancer much more closely
Today, a number of studies have come to explore the effects of cannabinoids on tumors, including cancers of the brain, breast, colon, skin, and more. A handful of studies have also specifically looked at the effect of cannabis on lung cancers.
In 2011, for example, an article in the Cancer Prevention Research Journal, examined the role of cannabis receptors as therapeutic targets against non-small cell lung cancer. Using both in vitro and in vivo evidence, the researchers found that CB1 and CB2 agonists were able to slow tumor growth and metastasis.
The same study also found that CB agonists were able to trigger specific pathways that cause tumor cell death (or apoptosis). Together, these findings suggest that both CB1 and CB2 could be used as targets for new therapeutic approaches to non-small cell lung cancer.
Furthermore, in 2012 a group of researchers from the Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology at the University of Rostock, Germany, found that CBD, the second most-common cannabinoid in cannabis, had antitumor effects on cultured lung cancer cells.
The results from this study were published in the FASEB Journal and showed that administering CBD to lung cancer cells inhibited the tumors invasiveness and metastasis.
Prior to this, research from 2008 found that THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, had similarly positive effects on lung cancer cells. Using both cell lines grown in the laboratory and in vivo tests involving mice, the researchers found that THC inhibited tumor growth and metastasis.
There is a growing body of research exploring the effect of cannabinoids like THC and CBD on various types of cancer. While nothing is certain, research suggests that cannabinoids produce antitumor effects in at least 2 different ways.
First of all, cannabinoids like THC and similar synthetic compounds activate cannabis receptors in the body. This activation somehow triggers a specific stress response in the tumor cells that invokes apoptosis, a natural type of cell death.
Similarly, cannabinoids like THC and CBD have also been shown to starve tumors. While it isn’t exactly clear how they do so, research suggests they are able to inhibit tumors from growing their own blood vessels to deliver blood and nutrients to the tumor site.
But the evidence for cannabis’ effects on cancer isn’t just limited to lab studies. A number of patients have also openly discussed their use of cannabis in the treatment of tumors.
SO CAN CANNABIS REALLY CURE LUNG CANCER?
While there is a growing body of scientific literature as well as anecdotal evidence from doctors and patients advocating the antitumor effects of cannabis, it is too early to tell whether or not the plant offers real and reliable cure.
So even though we do believe that it can definitely help in some cases, more studies and clinical trials are needed in order for us to come to concrete conclusions about cannabis’ effects on lung cancer.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.