In July, the National Cancer Institutes at the National Institutes of Health quietly updated its page on cannabis and cannabinoids to say that yes, studies have shown that the THC-based plant inhibits the growth of cancer cells and even kills them while protecting healthy cells.
Amazing, right? Absolutely, but there’s a big catch: It hasn’t been tested on humans yet.
The cancer.gov website outlines several studies on lab mice and rats that show positive antitumor activity when cannabinoids were used as treatment. In one study, cannabinoids showed that it “may protect against inflammation of the colon and may have potential in reducing the risk of colon cancer, and possibly in its treatment.”
In another, cannabidiol (CBD) use in estrogen receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cells to die while having little effect on the normal cells.
According to the American Cancer Society, early clinical trials on how cannabinoids affect cancer have been done in humans, but much more has to be studied. “While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease,” the ACS wrote on its website.
“Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.”
What can it be good for? The NIH confirms that the anti-inflammatory effects of the ingredients in cannabis may help pain relief in those affected by cancer, either by ingesting it in oil, tea or food form, smoking it or even spraying it on the tongue. Two types of cannabinoids — dronabinol and nabilone — are also approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.
So, while we’re way off from declaring cannabis as a cancer killer, the government’s admission that it can help cancer patients deal with pain is a win for those searching for alternatives to traditional medications.