What Does Cannabis Do to Cancer Cells?

Posted 6 years ago by Ian Shutts

You probably could no longer count the number of times you’ve heard that cannabis has the ability to treat cancer. But do you know how cannabis and its beneficial cannabinoids do that, beyond just knowing that cannabis can treat cancer and relieve symptoms?

A Little Background on Cancer

You can say that our cells have a predetermined pattern. One cell divides and multiplies until it becomes your heart, for example, and “stops” when it reaches its desired form and function. This predetermined pattern of our cells’ growth and development is what transforms a fetus into a normal and healthy adult.

This isn’t the case though with cancer. An abnormality develops, be it genes or external factors, that the cells continuously divide, multiply, and grow at an uncontrollable level. These cells then form clusters of cells which develop into tumors.

Most tumors are usually benign and stay in only one area. They only become malignant and cancerous when they continue to develop and begin to invade other tissues and spread to new regions in the body.

cannabis and cancer cells

For tumors to be cancerous, these factors should be present:

  • They invade surrounding tissue since the cells continue to divide uncontrollably.
  • They form blood vessels that feed them nutrients to grow more and develop.
  • They can migrate to other regions of the body via the blood vessels.

These three combined can make cancer very deadly and difficult to treat.

Cancer and Conventional Drugs

The most common forms of treatment for cancer are chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and other drugs that can control cancer symptoms. While all these can kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading, they do have ugly side effects that can contribute to the patient’s suffering. In worst cases, these drugs can also fail to control the cancer cells.

Cancer and Cannabis

Now, let’s see what cannabis can do to cancer cells. The cannabinoids found in cannabis have the ability to address all the three factors that make cancer deadly.

medical cannabis

  • Cannabis can stop cancer from invading other tissues. How the cannabinoids do this is actually fascinating. Both THC and CBD have the ability to induce the cancer cells to release certain chemicals that prompt cell death. Once these chemicals are released, cell death occurs. Our body has what we call the scavenger cells, and these cells will then flock to the area to engulf the dead cancer cells for elimination.
  • Cannabis can stop new blood vessels from forming on the cancer growth. New blood vessels develop from the branches of an existing blood vessel. This formation is a normal process since blood needs to be delivered to all parts of the body. Unfortunately, some of these branches reach the cancer growth, and there the new blood vessels will also develop and grow to feed the cancer mass. Now, CBD and THC have the ability to inhibit some important molecules needed for the development of new blood vessels. Cannabinoids also have the ability to stop the growth of certain cells that line the blood vessel. With these controlled, the formation of new blood vessels is reduced.
  • Cannabis can stop cancer cells from spreading or metastasizing. With cannabinoids activating the cancer cell death and stopping the formation of new blood vessels, metastasis is reduced.

Here’s another thing that CBD can do.

Our endocannabinoid system has anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects when it’s activated. Unfortunately, the endocannabinoids that activate the ECS are produced only on-demand. It would have been great if there are enough endocannabinoids to produce these effects, but they are so easily broken down by enzymes for reabsorption back into the cells.

Now, CBD can prevent our cells from reabsorbing these endocannabinoids. With more endocannabinoids in our body, the anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects of the endocannabinoid system are boosted.

Finally, cannabinoids also have the ability to relieve some symptoms associated with cancer like pain; feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression; loss of appetite; insomnia; and fatigue.

Cannabis and Conventional Therapy

The administration of CBD and THC can boost the effects of conventional therapy. In fact, more and more patients are already using medical cannabis together with their regular anti-cancer drugs.

But unlike chemotherapy drugs though that also kill healthy and non-transformed cells, cannabinoids only induce the cell death of the abnormal cancer cells and spare the healthy ones. Cannabinoids also have the ability to control symptoms associated with chemotherapy drugs like pain, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and appetite loss.

Cannabinoids can work synergistically with conventional anti-cancer drugs. Together, they can control cancer cells from growing and metastasizing, with the cannabinoids even controlling the symptoms typically associated with chemotherapy.