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By now, we’ve all heard stories or know people personally that used cannabis (oil) to treat and even cure their cancers. Largely popularized by Rick Simpson and RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) at the beginning of the 21st century it started to unravel the Gordian knot that is cannabis as a treatment for cancer. The use of cannabis in treatment of cancer and research of its anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties are now being studied by almost all pharmaceutical companies – seeking the “Holy Grail” of medicine – the cure for cancer.

But we first didn’t learn about cannabis anti-cancer properties from Rick Simpson, the US government learned about it way back in 1974 and suppressed both the study and subsequently the additional research of cannabis in general. And, there were studies conducted on cannabis and its anti-tumoral properties in Europe and other parts of the world years before Rick Simpson.

“The Virginia Study”

During the 1960s and 1970s, mostly thanks to the Hippie movement, cannabis use in the United States began to rise. In an effort to prove the harmful effects of cannabis on human health, Medical College of Virginia, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society, was tasked to provide evidence that cannabis damages the immune system. Instead, the research article called “Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids found that THC slowed down the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice – lung and breast cancer and a virus-induced leukemia.

Study summary states – “Lewis lung adenocarcinoma growth was retarded by the oral administration of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabinol (CBN), but not cannabidiol (CBD). Animals treated for 10 consecutive days with delta-9-THC, beginning the day after tumor implantation, demonstrated a dose-dependent action of retarded tumor growth. Mice treated for 20 consecutive days with delta-8-THC and CBN had reduced primary tumor size. CBD showed no inhibitory effect on tumor growth at 14, 21, or 28 days. Delta-9-THC, delta-8-THC, and CBN increased the mean survival time (36% at 100 mg/kg, 25% at 200 mg/kg, and 27% at 50 mg/kg;, respectively), whereas CBD did not. Delta-9-THC administered orally daily until death in doses of 50, 100, or 200 mg/kg did not increase the life-spans of (C57BL/6 X DBA/2) F (BDF) mice hosting the L1210 murine leukemia. However, delta-9-THC administered daily for 10 days significantly inhibited Friend leukemia virus-induced splenomegaly by 71% at 200 mg/kg as compared to 90.2% for actinomycin D. Experiments with bone marrow and isolated Lewis lung cells incubated in vitro with delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC showed a dose-dependent (10 -4 10 -7) inhibition (80-20%, respectively) of tritiated thymidine and 14C – uridine uptake into these cells. CBD was active only in high concentrations”.

The 1975 journal article doesn’t mention breast cancer tumors, which are featured in the only newspaper story ever to appear about the 1974 study — in the “Local” section of The Washington Post on Aug. 18, 1974. Under the headline, “Cancer Curb Is Studied,” it read in part:

“The active chemical agent in marijuana curbs the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice and may also suppress the immunity reaction that causes rejection of organ transplants, a Medical College of Virginia team has discovered.” The researchers “found that THC slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers, and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent.”

The “Virginia Study” was soon buried and there were no more efforts to study the connection between cannabis and cancer until the 1990s and legalization of medicinal cannabis in California. According to Jack Herer, US cannabis activist – DEA quickly shut down the Virginia study and stopped all cannabis research that could prove any of its medical benefits and effects.

The use declared Cannabis a Schedule 1 drug in 1972 and it would be an embarrassment if they had to change that classification, that still remains to this day, so soon and admit that they were wrong, which they most certainly were. And with the “War on Drugs”, that has since seen trillions of dollars pumped into the cause, which oriented mostly on cannabis and cannabis users, declaring cannabis as a treatment for cancer certainly wasn’t something that the current administration (and all others that followed) was interested in.

Furthermore in 1976, President Gerald Ford put an end to all public cannabis research and granted exclusive research rights to major pharmaceutical companies, which tried to develop synthetic cannabinoids that would deliver all of the medical benefits without the high but failed to this day.

The “Madrid study”

A Spanish medical team’s study called “Anti-tumoral action of cannabinoids: Involvement of sustained ceramide accumulation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation” released in Madrid in February 2000 has shown that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in marijuana, destroys tumors in lab rats. The research was conducted by a medical team led by Dr. Manuel Guzman of Complutense University in Madrid.

In the study, brains of 45 lab rats were injected with a cancer cell, which produced tumors. On the twelfth day of the experiment, 15 of the rats were injected with THC and 15 with Win-55, 212-2, a synthetic compound similar to THC. The untreated rats died 12-18 days after the development of the tumors. THC treated rats lived significantly longer than the control group. Although three were unaffected by the THC, nine lived 19-35 days, while tumors were completely eradicated in three others. The rats treated with Win-55,212-2 showed similar results.

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The significance of the “Madrid Study” was not just in the fact that cannabis can be used to treat cancer but in the “Pandora’s box” that it opened. There are now more than a hundred peer-reviewed studies that all show same or similar results.

American universities and all other federally funded institutions have essentially been blackmailed with the leverage of losing their funding if they researched any medical benefits of cannabis, a situation that remains more or less the same even now, with cannabis legalized for medical use in many US states and even patented in some forms of medicine by that same federal government. Due to cannabis being legalized in many parts of the world, at least for its medicinal use, cannabis research but specifically cannabis and cancer research is not being done not only in the US but in other countries as well – Israel, Canada, UK, India, Spain and numerous others.

Cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids

Cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found in Cannabis all play a significant role when it comes to cannabis as a cancer treatment. As we start researching Cannabis and its compounds, more and more cannabinoids are being studied in links with anti-cancer properties. And, unlike chemotherapy that targets both good and bad cells, studies on cannabis and cancer all show that cannabis targets just the cancerous cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.

Along with THC, CBN and CBD, which are best known to show anti-tumoral and anti-cancer properties, whether by shrinking the tumors or by stopping the growth and metastasis, many others could provide similar or even better effect. Cannabis has +140 cannabinoids, that we know of now, and the vast majority and its effects are pretty unknown and certainly under-studied.

Compounds other than cannabinoids and its effects are just starting to be studied properly, yet a number of them have already shown huge potential in medical and especially anti-cancer activities. Phytol, Alpha Phellandrene, Alpha Humulene, Trans-Caryophyllene, Alpha Pinene, Myrcene, Terpinolene and D-Limonene are just some of the terpenes found in cannabis that have confirmed anti-cancer properties.

Phytol, terpene generally found in green tea but also in cannabis has strong anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties and has been found effective in treatment for both liver and breast cancer. Research so far confirms its ability to induce apoptosis (death of cells) of dysfunctional/cancerogenic cells in the body.

Alpha Phellandrene, usually found in mint, pine and eucalyptus has been used in Eastern Medicine as an antifungal and antibacterial agent for ages. Along with its ability to reduce pain sensitivity and increase of energy in patients, there are studies showing its anti-cancer properties as well. Studies show that Alpha Phellandrene induces apoptosis in leukemia cells.

Alpha-Humulene, usually found in hops and the terpene that gives beer its flavor and smell has anti-cancer properties as well. Study published by the European Journal of Pharmacology found that alpha-humulene prevented tumor growth in rats. Another study by Planta Medica showed its anti-tumor activity when “evaluated against several solid tumor cell lines”.

D-Limonene, usually found in citrus fruits has also shown to work as anti-tumor and anti-cancer medicine. A breast cancer study demonstrated a 22 percent reduction in breast tumor cell expression. Another study found limonene to inhibit the growth of skin tumors in rodents. D-Limonene has also been found to have chemotherapeutic activity against pancreatic, mammary and prostatic tumors as well as chemopreventive activity against many rodent solid tumor types.

Alpha Pinene, amplest of terpenes is often found in various types of pine trees but also in basil, rosemary, parsley and turpentine. Pine needle oil has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for ages but it too has proven anti-cancer activity. One study showed that liver cancer cell growth “was inhibited obviously with inhibitory rate of 79.3% in vitro and 69.1% in vivo”. Another study concluded that “treatment with a-pinene significantly inhibited human prostate cancer cell growth and induced apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in the cell line-based model”.

Myrcene, the most common tepene found in cannabis can also be found in hops, parsley, thyme, mangos and lemongrass. Research showed that it can act as a sedative, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and analgesic but some research shows that it also has anti-cancer properties as well.

Terpinolene is usually found in cannabis in very small doses but it can also be found in Lilacs, Nutmeg and Cumin as well. Its properties are antioxidant, sedative, antibacterial and antifungal but studies have shown that it has anti-cancer activity as well.

All this is just scratching the surface, with more than 200 terpenes found in cannabis many of them could show similar properties and effects when dealing with cancer. In a study published in 2019, Caflanone (FBL-03G), a flavonoid (that is a compound responsible for plant colors) found in cannabis has shown to have anti-cancer activity too and demonstrated therapeutic potential in metastatic pancreatic cancer.

The National Library of Medicine currently shows almost two thousand studies and articles (even more when you type in other non-cannabinoid compounds in cannabis) done on cannabis and cancer. Not all of those studies are done to show anti-cancer properties of cannabis but it just shows that cannabis and its links with (anti) cancer is well researched and studied, contrary to popular belief. Of course, there could always be more of them and there should be more of them as we’re just beginning our understanding of the cannabis plant and its compounds and the medicinal potential it holds.

Cannabis as preventive cancer treatment

Cannabis is yet to become (the ultimate) preventive medicine, a concept that isn’t really often used in Western Medicine, apart from doctors telling you to eat healthy and exercise regularly. However, some studies documenting cannabis as a preventive cancer treatment have already been done.

One study that involved cannabis and head and neck cancers documented that – “In a study, researchers have found that long-term pot smokers were roughly 62 percent less likely to develop head and neck cancers than people who did not smoke pot.”

Another study researching cannabis use and bladder cancers concluded that “Retrospectively analyzing a large database of patients, researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California found that patients who reported cannabis use were 45 percent less likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer than patients who did not smoke at all.”

Rick Simpson, RSO and the Phoenix Tears project

Rick Simpson is a Canadian medical cannabis activist that became known for producing and distributing FECO – full extract cannabis oil, which later became known as RSO or Rick Simpson Oil.

After suffering a work accident which left him with tinnitus and dizzy spells, he was prescribed a number of medications that had little to no effect, even making some of the symptoms worse. After seeing a documentary about medical properties of cannabis, he asked his doctors to prescribe cannabis but his doctor didn’t want to do it. That didn’t stop him and he acquired the cannabis on his own and started using it, after which he saw a significant improvement in all his symptoms.

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2003, Rick heard about the study that killed tumors in rats published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Not being very fond of the smoking method, he made cannabis oil (FECO) and used it topically to treat his skin cancer. In just four days, his cancer disappeared and from that moment on Rick became a firm believer in medicinal properties of cannabis.

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In the beginning, RSO meant high THC (ideally +90% THC) FECO but with time and various attempts at commercialization, it lost all meaning and you now have various oils and concentrates that share the name but in reality their effects and medicinal properties are miles apart, such as “CBD RSO”.

Soon, the information, anecdotal evidence and testimonials began to spread through various groups, collectives and individuals, not just in Canada but worldwide. One of the first collectives that grew cannabis and made and distributed cannabis oil for free was the Phoenix Tears project.

Phoenix Tears project consisted of mainly Canadian and US patients and growers, including Rick Simpson. The project and numerous associated growers had their share of troubles with the law, resulting in multiple raids and numerous arrests. Among the raids was Rick Simpson’s home that resulted in 2,600 plants being cut down and confiscated by RCMP. Facing prosecution, Rick left for Europe but that didn’t stop the police in continuing their raids and arrests. Numerous other individuals like Darren McCormick and Kevin Moore had also been arrested and had their plants cut down.

For years, Phoenix Tears collective provided trustworthy information on how to make your own oil, how to use and dose it and documented many various testimonials, not only for cancer but for many other conditions as well. One of the most noted information was the established protocol for curing most cases of cancer that involves eating 60g of RSO/FECO in 90 days.

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Jindřich Bayer and the JBO Method

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In addition to his previously mentioned work, Jindřich developed an improved way of using cannabis oil which increased the potential effectiveness of the 60g/90 days protocol. By adding essential oils from hops, myrrh and frankincense to high potency RSO/FECO, he managed to significantly increase the effectiveness of the previously set protocol. All of three additions – myrrh, hops and frankincense have anti-cancer properties as well, and have been studied and researched as possible treatments of various cancers. Symbiotic relationship between them has also been studied, showing interesting medical potential.

Bob Marley smoked weed but he died from cancer

That is true – Bob Marley is one of, if not the most famous and iconic weed smoker in modern history and he did die from cancer. Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Although being one of the most common melanomas in the people with dark skin, at the time it was not widely recognized and mentioned in the most medical textbooks of the time.

Marley refused to have his toe amputated, contrary to his doctor’s advice, citing his Rastafarian beliefs and opted for “Issels treatment” in Josef Issels clinic in Bavaria, an alternative treatment consisting mainly from a strict dietary rules, avoiding certain foods and drinks.

But chemo and radiation cure cancer but you still have people dying from it. In fact, chemotherapy itself will kill a lot of people that get it, chemo – not cancer. But chemo is still used as a treatment for cancer, sadly in many cases even for cancers that don’t respond well to chemo.

Cannabis is not a “cure for all” and it can’t cure or even treat every instance of every possible condition, cancer included. There are some types of cancer that don’t respond well to cannabis treatment and the disease can spread too much that it’s too late for cannabis (or any other known therapy) to work.

But, for cannabis treatment to work, you need to ingest (or intake by any other method) much more cannabinoids that one can intake by smoking, even if you chainsmoke joints one after the other. The bioavailability of cannabinoids through smoking is 25-35%, depending on the cannabinoid, meaning that only 25-35% of them will actually end up in your bloodstream. The most potent cannabis strains now contain up to 30% or more THC and that is just too little to have a desired effect. It’s also good to note that cannabis was, in most cases, a lot less potent before, usually containing around 5% THC. For cannabis, and mainly THC, to work on cancer, you’d need at least 55% of THC but percentages upwards of +90% have shown to have the best effect.

Almost all studies done on cannabis and cancer have been limited to animal and lab studies, although we’ve known for anti-cancer properties of cannabis for decades. It’s impossible to find a good and legitimate reason why that is so, especially when finding a cure for cancer would be the next best thing after sliced bread but cannabis is a plant and can’t be patented, which means that there’s no money in producing medicine, that’s essentially just a plant.

The patents that can be approved on cannabis are very limited and there’s practically nothing stopping you or anyone else to make at least a similar drug or just use various extracts and concentrates that would have similar effects and properties. This means that big pharmaceutical companies are not interested in such plant based drugs but that doesn’t mean that they’ll just give up on it. There’s too much overwhelming evidence so far that cannabis and its compounds could provide a good cancer treatment and if they manage to make and synthesise one, it would mean that it could be patented and then sold, of course for a (hyperinflated) price.

There is already a huge abundance of synthetic cannabinoids, and many of them have shown various medical uses and effects. One of the pioneers of that movement is Raphael Mechoulam, Isreali scientist and the godfather of modern cannabis research. Recently, Mechoulam signed a contract with UK based cannabis company – GW Pharma, which will undoubtedly lead to many new drugs and its uses. GW Pharma already holds a patent for the use of phytocannabinoids in the treatment of cancer and it’s reasonable to expect many more, as Mechoulam himself holds dozens of them.

The Bottom Line

Although there are now already hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and articles that show anti-tumoral and anti-cancer properties of cannabis and compounds found in cannabis that doesn’t mean that all cancers and all cases of cancer could be cured by using cannabis (so far).

Most studies published so far have been done with animal models and lab testing. Human trials are very limited, mostly due to the fact that Cannabis is still scheduled, practically illegal in most parts of the world and ofc, for the huge part, to the fact that Big Pharma would lose a very significant piece of their revenue.

But, it is something that certainly merits more research and studying. And by doing that we could find the best ratios and dosage of all those compounds which could lead to an effective and pretty harmless treatment for cancer. Especially when compared to chemo, which essentially targets all cells, both cancerous and healthy and hopes that it will kill the ‘bad’ ones and not inflict too much damage to the healthy ones.

But even if cannabis won’t cure a specific case or type of cancer, its other medicinal properties – such as helping patients deal with nausea, lack of sleep or loss of appetite, pain reduction and others are all something that can help cancer patients.

For all those ‘side-effects’ of cancer, cannabis is already being prescribed, and not just in the US but in the rest of the world too and there are studies that show various opportunities for cannabis in supportive care in cancer as well as studies showing the use of cannabis in symptom management and cancer therapy.

And even if cannabis alone can’t help to reduce or eliminate cancer, recent studies, as the one conducted by Israeli scientists Hagit Neumann-Raizel, Asaf Shilo and their team, showed that co-application of CBD alongside chemo improved the outcomes, meaning that by using CBD, patients needed less chemotherapy and achieved better results than chemo alone, which is a big deal knowing the destructive nature of chemotherapy. Another study done with CBD and γ-radiation show similar results.

* Special thanks to Raymond Cushing for his work that first brought the “Virginia study” to light and mainstream media after the study was burried

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