I am often asked to see children who are suffering with advanced cancers. Parents seek cannabis medicine to help their children with relief of symptoms from the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, having been told the cancer treatment is not working, parents are desperate to find a cure. I teach parents what we know and what we don’t know about cannabis use for cancer, knowing that they must have the data to make an informed decision.
Cannabinoids have been shown in animal studies to inhibit tumor growth, cause cancer cells to commit suicide, inhibit metastasis and inhibit growth of new blood vessels in tumors. Additionally cannabinoids have also been shown to enhance effects of certain chemotherapeutic agents. There is only one published study in humans that used THC in nine patients with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain tumor. The study concluded that THC was safe and it inhibited cancer cell growth. Human trials have been prohibited in the U.S. due to the Schedule I designation of cannabis in the Controlled Substance Act. We are lacking critical human research that answers the questions of which specific cancers respond to cannabis, which cannabinoids to use, what dose to use and what duration of treatment is needed to achieve survivorship.
Although most reports of cancer “cures” are anecdotal, a case report from Canada of a 14-year-old girl with an extremely aggressive form of leukemia successfully documented a dose response to cannabis oil. After not responding to numerous conventional treatments, her parents decided to try treatment with concentrated cannabis oil. This patient was not on other treatment while using cannabis, and the blast cell count (which is the leukemia count) responded to adjustments in dosing frequency and dose potency of the cannabis oil. Her physicians documented this response and were able to note that dosing intervals (how long between doses) and the potency of oil had a direct impact on the death of the leukemia cells.
I have used cannabis medicine to treat a number of children with advanced and life-threatening cancers, either to help them tolerate the terrible side effects of the cancer treatment, or in a compassionate effort to try to save the child’s life. The parents of my patients are convinced that the addition of cannabis to the child’s regimen has helped them to achieve reduction of disease. Some patients come to me too late in their course, and all I can offer them is relief from symptoms and a decent quality of life before they pass.
One particular case of a teenager with metastatic bone cancer is worth noting. The patient had been diagnosed two years prior to starting cannabis and was sent to me by the oncologist as the cancer had stopped responding to treatment and was spreading to more parts of the body. The parents had been told that the child was not going to survive. I started the patient on high dose cannabis oil in a CBD:THC ratio of 1:1. The palliative dose of chemotherapy was continued as an animal study showed that cannabinoids, when added to this particular chemotherapeutic agent, worked synergistically to enhance cancer cell death. This patient is now cancer free after nine months of cannabis oil added to chemotherapy. The prognosis at the time cannabis treatment was initiated was extremely poor, and it is still unclear what worked to achieve these results. We must be very careful with claims of “cancer cure,” but cannabis has certainly extended life for this child. If cannabis can be freely studied by scientists, we will be able to save so many.
“Cannabis for Pediatric Cancer” is the fourth installment of a five-part series on Children and Cannabis Medicine.
To learn more about the compounds in cannabis and how they’re healing everything from chronic pain to epilepsy, check out Dr. Bonni’s wonderful new book: Cannabis Revealed
Zogopoulos, Panagiotis, et al. “The antitumor action of cannabinoids on glioma tumorigenesis.” Histology & Histopathology 30 (2015).
Guzman, M., et al. “A pilot clinical study of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme.” British journal of cancer 95.2 (2006): 197-203.
Miyato, Hideyo, et al. “Pharmacological synergism between cannabinoids and paclitaxel in gastric cancer cell lines.” Journal of Surgical Research 155.1 (2009): 40-47.
Nabissi, Massimo, et al. “Triggering of the TRPV2 channel by cannabidiol sensitizes glioblastoma cells to cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents.” Carcinogenesis 34.1 (2013): 48-57.
Donadelli, M., et al. “Gemcitabine/cannabinoid combination triggers autophagy in pancreatic cancer cells through a ROS-mediated mechanism.” Cell death & disease 2.4 (2011): e152
Singh, Yadvinder, and Chamandeep Bali. “Cannabis extract treatment for terminal acute lymphoblastic leukemia with a Philadelphia chromosome mutation.” Case reports in oncology 6.3 (2013): 585-592.)
Donadelli, M., et al. “Gemcitabine/cannabinoid combination triggers autophagy in pancreatic cancer cells through a ROS-mediated mechanism.” Cell death & disease 2.4 (2011): e152.