Substantial research exists on the use of Cannabis and cannabis derivatives for the treatment of cancer and cancer-related symptoms. Major health agencies such as the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Health Canada and the Mayo Clinic have independently reviewed the role of medical Cannabis in oncology.
One of Cannabis’s most recognized medicinal benefits is the management of nausea and appetite loss related to chemotherapy. In 1986, a synthetic THC pill called Marinol (or dronabinol) received FDA approval as a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Studies comparing Marinol to standard anti-nausea medications have found Marinol to be superior in clinical effectiveness. Clinical trials have also found Marinol effective at stimulating appetite and weight gain in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
A number of small studies also suggest that cannabinoids can help relieve pain, anxiety and sleep disturbances associated with advanced cancer.
An oral cannabis spray has been granted Fast Track Designation by the FDA and is currently in the final stages of clinical trials for treatment of cancer pain.
Numerous pre-clinical studies support the potential for cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, to combat a variety of cancers. Tumor cells have been found to express abnormally high levels of cannabinoids receptors, which are the pathways that facilitate the anti-cancer effects of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids have been shown to prevent the growth and spread of tumor cells as well as stimulate programmed cell death, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Pre-clinical studies suggest that the anti-cancer effects of cannabinoids may be dose-dependent, as higher doses have been shown to amplify the effects.
The only clinical trial of cannabinoids as a cancer therapy was published in 2006. The results showed “potential anti-tumor activity” of THC against a rare, aggressive form of brain cancer called recurrent glioblastoma multiforme.