Cannabis as a treatment for cancer

Cancer is one of those diseases that we have all heard of, either because we heard about it in some class, because of the misfortune of having had a family member or loved one affected or even because it was personally diagnosed at some point in our lives. lives.

Fortunately, every year there are more scientific findings that allow an early diagnosis and a more effective treatment of this disease, although it is important to note that the side effects of the vast majority of them continue to be extremely disabling for the patient.

Interestingly, the rise of medical cannabis has not only allowed us to find evidence that supports the use of cannabinoids for the management of cancer symptoms and chemotherapy, but has also led to the finding of anti-cancer effects in the interaction of some components of the plant with our body.

If you are interested in knowing how the use of medical cannabis can be of great help in treating cancer, keep reading this article!

Table of Contents

  • What is cancer? 
  • Current treatments for cancer
  • Cannabis in the treatment of cancer
    • Symptomatic management 
    • Antineoplastic
  • How can I use cannabis for cancer?
    • Pharmacological presentations 
    • Directly from the plant

What is cancer?

Cancer is the term that has been used to define a heterogeneous group of diseases characterized by the rapid and abnormal replication of cells in a tissue, forming what we know as neoplasms or tumors. These have the characteristic of being able to extend beyond their usual limits, being able to invade adjacent areas.

In 2018 there were 18.1 million new cases of cancer, with a mortality of 9.5 million people worldwide. 

The reason why cancer damages our body is because this accelerated cell replication requires a nutritional contribution that exceeds the capacity of our tissues, so these tumors consume the necessary nutrients for the survival of healthy cells.

In addition to this, neoplasms are associated with the development of diseases such as infections, thrombotic events and others that will be associated with the specific organ that is affected.

Cancer signs and symptoms vary widely depending on the affected tissue, but in general they can be associated with exacerbated weight loss, the presence of hard and immobile lymph nodes, and eventually the presence of palpable masses.

Current treatments for cancer

Currently there is a clear arsenal of options for cancer management, the selection of which to use over another will depend on factors such as the type of cancer, the size of the neoplasm, and the involvement of other tissues.

The most used treatments are:


It consists of the administration of drugs with a cytotoxic component (toxic to cells) that inhibits the replication capacity of cancer cells. 


It consists of the external or internal administration of radiation through the focused emission of radiation or the localized insertion of radioactive substances, respectively, which have the ability to destroy tumor cells.

Biological therapies: 

It consists of the administration of antibodies created in the laboratory that have the ability to associate with specific proteins that are mainly expressed by neoplastic cells. 

Surgical resection:

In some scenarios, surgical resection of the tumor is indicated, with it it is possible to eliminate the largest possible percentage of neoplastic tissue and the lymph nodes that are involved.

The main drawback of these therapies is that, with the exception of surgical resection, they do not have the ability to selectively attack the tumor. At the same time that they destroy cancer cells, they destroy healthy cells in our body. 

This produces numerous adverse effects whose symptoms can become more severe than those produced by the cancer itself. Among them, the following stand out:

  • Fatigue
  • Sickness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weightloss
  • Hair loss
  • Generalized and localized pain
  • Infections
  • Alterations in sexual desire and function
  • Incontinence
  • Skin lesions

Cannabis in the treatment of cancer

At this point the beneficial effects of medicinal cannabis are not a secret to anyone, to the point where the WHO (World Health Organization) recognizes the medicinal properties of cannabinoids. For this reason, in 2020, cannabis was removed from list IV by the UN narcotics commission (United Nations Organization) where it was listed alongside highly harmful and addictive substances such as heroin.

Regarding the therapeutic properties that cannabis, through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system , can offer cancer patients, we can highlight two types:

  1. Improve symptoms associated with the disease.
  2. Have an antitumor effect.

Symptomatic management

At present, the use of medicinal cannabis in the context of cancer that has the most scientific evidence, is for the relief of the symptoms associated with this disease and its treatment. 

This has allowed that today there are various products based on cannabinoids, especially THC and CBD, with international approval to be administered in this group of patients, being useful for the management of:

  • Chronic pain
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety

Thanks to this, many patients find in the medicinal use of this plant, the solution for an improvement in their quality of life:

  • Reduces the anxiety levels associated with the diagnosis and its personal repercussions
  • Improves your mood and appetite
  • Regulate disabling symptoms and severe adverse effects frequently associated with treatments for this disease.


In the last 20 years, one of the properties of cannabis that has caused the most stir and debate is its anti-cancer effect.

This is due to the fact that a substance that was previously considered highly harmful and dangerous, today has demonstrated the ability to soon become part of the treatment schemes for multiple types of cancer.

These antineoplastic properties are supported by various studies carried out in vitro (in isolated cells), in animals and even humans, where they have found evidence that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC can:

  • Induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells and inhibit their proliferation. 
  • Decrease the growth and size of tumors.
  • Inhibit tumor angiogenesis (blood vessel formation).
  • Decrease tumor migration, invasion and adhesion characteristic of metastatic processes

These mechanisms have allowed that today the usefulness of cannabinoids in the treatment of:

  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer 
  • Cancer of the gastrointestinal system
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Cancer of the immune system
  • Cancer of the lymphatic system

Despite having this evidence, to date there is no official recommendation by the scientific community for the use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer. 

Even so, more and more studies are coming to light and we hope that in the not too distant future cannabinoids will become part of the approved treatment regimens to treat this disease.

How can I use cannabis for cancer?

After knowing all the benefits of medical cannabis to relieve cancer symptoms and its many antineoplastic properties, you will ask yourself:  How can it be used? 

Pharmacological presentations

In this group we find molecules that can well be extracted directly from the cannabis plant as artificially synthesized in a laboratory, both of which have the ability to interact with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system.

Within this group we will find:

Sativex : a sublingual spray made from direct extracts of the cannabis plant, with a 1: 1 THC and CBD ratio, which also has the presence of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in lower concentrations. It is currently approved for use to improve symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

CBD oils: These are products whose main active ingredient is cannabidiol , the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant. Its administration is sublingual and its main recognized uses are for pain relief and anxiety modulation.

Dronabilone : It is a synthetic analog of THC that comes in capsules and oral solution. As it is a synthetic cannabinoid, it does not have the presence of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Its use has been approved for the management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Nabilone: Like dronabiline, it is a synthetic analog of THC, whose presentation is only in capsules. Its use has also been approved for the management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Direct from the cannabis plant

Of course, the direct use of cannabis flowers is an available option to reap the benefits of the plant’s cannabinoids. The most recommended ways to use it are:

Vaporization : alternative for those who want to achieve an immediate effect, either to relieve pain, nausea, vomiting or sudden anxiety.

This method also allows you to take advantage of and experiment with the wide range of cannabis strains that offer different medicinal properties depending on the concentration of their active ingredients.

Vaporization is recommended and not smoked methods since the combustion process necessary for the use of the latter produces the release of toxic substances that can be irritating to the airway and even have a carcinogenic effect.

Edibles: Edibles are a good option to seek a more lasting effect than that offered by inhalation methods such as vaporization.

The main drawback of these is the difficult dosage of cannabinoids, so it is recommended to be very cautious with the amounts ingested and, as far as possible, try to take advantage of this method for the consumption of non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD.

An example of the use that can be given to cannabis-based edibles is their consumption shortly before going to sleep, which could be an excellent alternative for people who suffer from insomnia due to their chronic pain, being able to find an alternative to improve your quality of sleep.

We must not forget that cannabinoids can interact with other medications , including those used in chemotherapies, so if you are receiving any of these drugs it is important that you consult with your doctor about the best way to consume this type of product and avoid interactions.

It is important to bear in mind that chronic use of cannabis can generate tolerance to its effects, requiring increasingly higher doses of cannabinoids to achieve relief from symptoms. This can be associated not only with higher financial costs, but also with an increased risk of adverse effects.

For this reason, I recommend the use of microdoses and eventually take a break for 48 hours to a week to regain your sensitivity to cannabinoids.

Cancer is a disease, which by its nature has a great impact not only on the health of the affected person, but on that of all loved ones around them. 

The main reason behind this is the deterioration in the quality of life that it produces, either directly or through the side effects of its treatment. 

Medical cannabis, although it does not yet have an official recommendation as a curative treatment for cancer, it is recommended as a relief therapy for the symptoms of the disease and its treatment. Its use represents an alternative to achieve a significant improvement in the quality of life of patients with this diagnosis.

It can be the ideal alternative to be able to face the course of this disease with the least amount of symptoms and in this way have the necessary strength to fight it and hopefully overcome it.

I hope you liked this article, 


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