Cannabis and Cancer Treatment - does it help?

Probably not. Although Facebook is filled with inquiries about the use of cannabis oil in treating different types of cancer, there is no clinical evidence to suggest it does benefit the cancer prognosis. The importance of alternative therapy is understandable when the conventional chemotherapy or immunotherapy or even targeted therapy is failing. And the need to try anything that is out there is also absolutely valid from the patient's perspective. The idea that other countries and cultures have higher success rates in treating cancer with herbs and natural methods is also unsubstantiated. As unfortunate it is, there are many people that will take advantage of this situation. Rest assured that the quality of life and the life span of cancer patients are much better in the US compared to the rest of the world.

I am going to discuss two peer-reviewed articles published recently in PubMed below. Both of them analyze the outcome of cannabis use while on immunotherapy. These patients were being treated for advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or melanoma or renal cell carcinoma. Taha (The Oncologist, 2018) reported that patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), melanoma, renal cell carcinoma who used cannabis products had lower response rate (15.9%) to immunotherapy drug nivolumab when compared to non-cannabis users (37.5%). However, the analysis also showed that there were no significant differences in overall survival or progression free survival between the two groups.

In contrast, Bar-sela et al. (Cancers, 2020) analyzed 102 patients with advanced NSCLC, melanoma and renal cell carcinoma and showed a significant reduction in time to cancer progression and overall survival in cannabis users. Time to cancer progression and overall survival was 3.4 months and 6.4 months respectively for users and 13.1 months and 28.5 months for non-users respectively. Therefore non-cannabis users got to live more than 4 times longer compared to the cannabis users. But the cannabis users reported significantly less side effects. Well, that is not surprising. Cannabinoids are known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which means they have immune-modulatory functions.

More research is required to understand the effects of cannabis on immunotherapy, but preliminary analysis indicates that cannabis products may be harming the treatment efficacy of immunotherapy more than helping. Please choose evidence-based approach.

Author: Anirban Mukherjee, PhD

Founder -

Cancer Researcher, University of Texas at Austin

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