Cannabis is increasingly used in the field of oncology. Which are its benefits and what is it used for?
Cannabis, in the past few years, is increasingly used in the medical field to accompany the patient on his/her clinical pathway. Among the many fields in which cannabis and its extracts are used, we can also find oncology.
Many words have been said about the topic but, seen the use currently made of it without taking scientific evidence into account, it seems appropriate to bring clarity on the role of cannabis and to dispel some myths.
Can cannabis cure cancer or reduce the tumour mass?
No. At the moment no evidence exists that cannabis or its single active principles (like cannabidiol) can have a role in contrasting the progress of a tumour. Some research studies exist – none of them conducted directly on human beings however – which demonstrate that cannabinoids (the active principles of the cannabis plant) can have some effect on tumour cells. However currently no clinical studies exist which prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that cannabis is able to cure this disease.
Many research teams have been engaged for years now, in order to investigate this possibility, in consideration of the benefits which can be found in other fields. Only in the future we might be able to discover if some substances contained in the cannabis plant can contrast the growth of a tumour mass in an effective way.
The use of cannabis in the field of oncology involves palliative treatments or the use aimed at attenuating some of the adverse effects of anti-tumour therapies like, for example, chemotherapy.
What is medical cannabis?
In order to understand which is the actual use of cannabis in the field of oncology, it is necessary to clearly distinguish the difference between the so-called cannabis light and medical cannabis. We should, in fact, consider cannabis light, those products which are obtained from dried cannabis inflorescences and in which the concentration of THC is between 0,2% and 0,6%. With therapeutic cannabis, on the other hand, we mean medicines containing cannabinoids and which have been developed and approved and introduced by an every growing number of national health care systems of various countries throughout the world. In these products the concentrations of the different active principles - like cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are calculated with extreme rigour.
Cannabis and oncology
One of the first studies aimed at exploring the application of cannabis in individuals affected by cancer, demonstrated how cannabinoids proved to be very effective – more than other medical drugs – in significantly reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
In 2010, instead, researchers of the Department of Psychology at the University of Guelph, Canada, found considerable evidence regarding the fact that the regulation of the endocannabinoid system results in a reduction of the sensation of nausea.
The anti-emetic effect of cannabinoids in general has been demonstrated by some studies on animals. It seems to be the action on the CB1 receptor of the endocannabinoid system which helps to suppress the sensation of having to vomit. Cannabidiol (CBD), in particular, can suppress nausea and vomit also when taken in limited dosages.
To this we can add the constantly increasing application of cannabidiol in contrasting a condition of chronic pain. More and more each day evidence emerges regarding the soothing effects of CBD in recurrent pain. It is also due to these anti-inflammatory qualities that many individuals and researchers are interested in cannabis in the field of oncology. These anti-inflammatory effects made it possible for cannabis to complement palliative treatments aimed at the mitigation of the symptoms of individuals affected by diseases which aren’t curable at the moment.
Furthermore, cannabinoids can stimulate appetite and elicit a sensation of wellbeing. They have myorelaxant effects and help those suffering from insomnia. In general, cannabinoids can help a patients in need of palliative treatments, to feel better.
Also in Italy cannabis has been authorised for therapeutic purposes and as an adjuvant in palliative treatments. It is, however, important to remember that cannabis must never ever be considered a substitute to the regular therapy the individual is undergoing. For these reasons, whichever the necessity, it is always the right thing to do to talk to one’s physician and use cannabis containing products which are certified, obtained and packed with extreme rigour and of which the compounds are declared in the description with complete exactness.