"Cannabis Cures Cancer" is a seductive war cry for a growing faction of pro-pot proponents, especially when it comes to medical usage. The phrase itself is alliterative, provocative and begs curiosity even from the plant's staunchest opponents. It's also sensational, unproven and, at its core, untrue.
As a longtime cannabis imbiber, activist and advocacy journalist, I've yearned to believe it, written heart-wrenching articles about parents who've tried to save their children with it and heard anecdotal evidence from raw juicers to full plant extractors that they've seen it work where nothing else has. Really kicking in with Rick Simpson in 2003, who claimed to have cured his own skin cancer with cannabis oil alone and was thereafter pumping out reports of cures, charity treatments and miracles until driven out of Canada to flee the feds. This crackdown, for the most part, lent credibility in the cannabis community to Simpson's claims that full extract cannabis oil cured cancer and was scaring Big Pharma.
The problem is that though there are many who've reported having been cured or seeing their tumor begin to shrink once they began rigorous cannabis treatments, their stories are overwhelmed by the number of instances where individuals end chemotherapy for the oil at a painful or crucial juncture and die within weeks or months. Their quality of life is always reportedly improved. The nausea and pain from chemo goes away, the appetite returns, words flow more easily and many have an easier and more dignified passage. These are blatant instances of failure to cure, but unparalleled successes in bringing comfort to the terminally ill.
The biggest argument extractors and activists use toward cannabis being a cure is that scientific studies show cannabis to kill certain cancerous cells. The first issue is that there are many types of cancer that manifest themselves uniquely and require different, targeted treatments. The only blanket statement that could possibly apply to cancer "in general" is that it sucks. The second issue affects the first substantially: the ethics behind human testing.
The reason it's impossible for the foreseeable future to get cannabis to the human trial stages, even if Federally descheduled tomorrow, is that in the current medical community it would be absolutely unethical for a doctor to ask her patient to refuse proven treatments in lieu of unproven plant extracts. A time may come that there are enough believers and overwhelming anecdotal evidence that it would be unethical to not allow human trials. For now, though, it's not going to happen.
According to cancer.gov, preclinical cannabinoid research shows antitumor effects, "including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis invasion and metastasis." Meaning that it has been shown to have spectacular abilities, like cutting off the blood flow nourishing a tumor, keeping a tumor from spreading and killing off mutated cells. In petri dishes and mice.
So is, "Cannabis has shown the potential to fight certain cancers and tumors," a better argument? Yes, but only with massively important caveats, like keep going to the doctor and take the Western medicine shaming down a few notches. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of the first credible books to explore the safety then efficacy of cannabis, said this, "I think the day will come when it or some cannabinoid derivatives will be demonstrated to have cancer curative powers, but in the meantime, we must be very cautious about what we promise these patients."
Cancer rears its destructive head in many forms and locations. The allopathic oncology already developed and tested against specific varieties has saved lives. Their uses and success rates can be quantified. Now, as an adjunct to traditional therapy, I say yes, most definitely add cannabis to your treatment plan. Let it knock out chemo/radiation side effects, ease the mind, bring back smiles, appetites, appreciations and uplifted moods. Pump yourself or loved one full of concentrated cannabis oil (tested and toxin free) and do keep hope that it will slow or stop the gripping disease. Just don't stop seeing your doctor. Listening to doctors of oncology when life is at stake should be your first and ongoing defense.
There is no way to definitively say at this point which cannabinoids, dosages, strain combinations or frequencies of administration are needed to abandon known medicines. We can't even say it's a real possibility. I'd love to see painful, good/bad cell annihilating treatments like chemotherapy become an integral part of our past, but until pot can be proven to do chemo and/or radiation's jobs better than they, ditching them purely for cannabis is simply not a good idea.
Is cannabis a good medicine for cancer patients? Absolutely, and for so many reasons beyond its speculative curative properties. Does it cure cancer? No. Not that we can quantify. At least not yet...
(This was published in the Huffington Post)