Medical Marijuana and Colon Cancer, marijuana treatment program

Despite modern advancements, colon cancer remains the second most deadly form of cancer in the Western world. In 2008, colon cancer (also known as colorectal cancer or bowel cancer) was diagnosed in over 1 million individuals and was responsible for more than 600,000 deaths worldwide.

What makes matters worse is that colon cancer seems to affect almost anyone. Experts say that 75-95% of colon cancer is unrelated to genetics, making it difficult to pinpoint who might actually be at risk.

On the other hand, support for the use of medical marijuana in cancer therapy has grown tremendously over the past few decades and recent studies provide strong evidence of its potential as a treatment for colon cancer.

Can Marijuana Fight Cancer?

Marijuana is rich in compounds known as cannabinoids, which include THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These compounds have been studied extensively in cancer research and have demonstrate significant potential in fighting the disease.

As outlined by the National Cancer Institute, marijuana-derived compounds have been found to possess the following anti-cancer effects:

  • Anti-inflammatory activity
  • Blocking cell growth
  • Preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors
  • Antiviral activity

Despite the fact that oncologists have so far only been willing to prescribe cannabis for nauseaand loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy, medical marijuana seems to hold much promise in fighting the disease itself.

Endocannabinoids and Colon Cancer

Marijuana’s cancer-fighting potential results from its interaction with a unique biological system that exists in all humans – the endocannabinoid system. Specifically, the endocannabinoid system has been shown to play an important role in the body’s defence against colon cancer.

For example, a study published in 2003 identified a significant increase in endocannabinoid levels in cancerous colon tissue sampled from human patients. In fact, anandamide was present at 3 times the normal amount and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) at 2 times the normal amount in these samples. Both anandamide and 2-AG inhibited tumor cell proliferation in the study, leading the authors to conclude that an increase in endocannabinoid levels may be the body’s natural way of slowing cancer growth.

Interestingly, research also suggests that endocannabinoids may even be more effective than chemotherapy at fighting cancer.

A study published in 2010 found that anandamide could kill colon cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy – a problem that affects approximately 40% of patients. The study also found that while anandamide induced programmed cell death (apoptosis) in diseased cells, it left healthy cells unharmed. As such, the researchers concluded that increasing the body’s cannabinoid levels has the potential to be a safe and effective treatment for colon cancer.

THC, CBD and Colon Cancer

Like endocannabinoids, compounds found in marijuana have been shown to fight cancer by acting on the body’s innate cannabinoid system. Research has mostly focused on THC and CBD, since they are both present at high concentrations in the cannabis plant.

A study published in 2007 found that marijuana-derived THC could induce apoptosis in human cell lines of colon cancer. The apoptosis effect was observed to be dose-dependent, meaning that higher doses led to higher rates of cancer cell death, leading the authors to conclude that THC could be an effective treatment for the disease.

“The use of THC, or selective targeting of the CB1 receptor, may represent a novel strategy for colorectal cancer therapy.”

Excerpt from The cannabinoid delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol inhibits RAS-MAPK and PI3K-AKT survival signalling and induces BAD-mediated apoptosis in colorectal cancer cells. (2007)

Other studies have focused on CBD – due to its lack of psychoactive properties – and have documented similar results.

A study published in 2011 found that CBD was effective at both inducing apoptosis and inhibiting cancer proliferation in human cell lines – demonstrating a two-pronged attack against colon cancer. Furthermore, a study published in 2012 found that CBD could protect against cancerous lesions and oxidative damage in rat models of colon cancer.

Interestingly, the 2012 study also found that CBD treatment increased endocannabinoid levels, suggesting that CBD can not only fight cancer directly, but indirectly as well by increasing the cancer-fighting activity of the body’s own cannabinoids.

And despite the fact that marijuana-derived compounds have yet to be clinically trialed as a cancer treatment, researchers have concluded that human studies are indeed warranted.

“In the light of its safety records… our findings suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) might be worthy of clinical consideration in colon cancer prevention.”

Excerpt from Chemopreventive effect of the non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid cannabidiol on experimental colon cancer. (2012)

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Another well-documented effect of medical marijuana is its role in reducing inflammation.

Inflammation of the colon is believed to be a primary factor in the development and progression of a variety of bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, research points to medical marijuana as being an effective treatment for these disorders as well.

Interestingly, a study published in 2008 identified an increase in CB2 receptors in colon tumor tissues. Due to pre-existing evidence of the anti-inflammatory effects of CB2 receptor activation, the authors suggested that higher CB2 receptor expression in colon tumors may indicate a protective role of the endocannabinoid system against inflammation and tumor development.

Indeed, studies seems to imply that cannabinoids may even be useful in preventing the development of colon cancer itself.