Marijuana or cannabis not only serves to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. The most recent studies suggest that it is anticancer and useful in many other diseases.

Claudina Navarro

The most well-known indication of marijuana, which has been used medicinally for about 5,000 years, is the treatment of the side effects of chemotherapy : nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite. But recent research shows that therapeutic cannabis also acts directly against diseased cells.

Cannabis against cancer

A clinical study conducted by Manuel Guzmán, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, with nine patients with aggressive brain tumors showed that THC-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the most characteristic acne or cannabinoid principle of the plant, was able to do more slow the growth of tumors . The study suggested that the effects observed earlier in vitro and in animals also occurred in sick people.

Guzmán, along with his collaborators Guillermo Velasco and Cristina Sánchez, explained in an article in the journal Nature that cannabinoids could be effective in themselves and enhance the action of chemotherapy . In addition to brain cancer, it suggests that they are probably useful in the presence of others such as pancreas, skin and liver.

How therapeutic cannabis works

If cannabis is capable of acting in the body, it is because its cannabinoids resemble substances produced by the body itself . Being similar, they are coupled to the same cell receptors. These endogenous substances are the endocannabinoids, the most important of which is anandamide (ananda means “enchantment” or “happiness” in Sanskrit).

The difference is that while the anandamide acts only for a few instants, the cannabinoids do it with more intensity for several days . This is because they accumulate in adipose tissue, from where they pass little by little to the liver and blood. Once inside the body, they act on cells endowed with the appropriate receptors, called CB1 and CB2, which abound in neurons.

The action of cannabinoids on different areas of the brain explains why they are effective in treating the side effects of chemotherapy . When they act on the basal ganglia they reduce tremors, spasms and other movement disturbances; in the hypothalamus they open appetite; and in the “core of the solitary tract” they control nausea and vomiting.

Its benefits for the brain

According to Mauro Maccarrone, from the BioMedica University of Rome, endocannabinoids are crucial in the development, communication and regeneration of neurons. Research suggests that cannabis could reduce the inflammation and oxidation of neurons , and boost the generation of new and healthy nerve cells.

At the same time, THC produces the symptoms that have caused its prohibition: laughter, slowness, difficulties to continue conversations, but also increases creativity and sensory acuity .

All these effects are moderate in plants rich in cannabinoid CBD. On the other hand, the toxicity is not significant, and the addictive effect is not greater than that of caffeine .

In any case it is advisable to continue the treatment under the supervision of a doctor with knowledge about cannabis. Its use is not indicated in children or in people with cardiovascular diseases.

Prohibition and patents: obstacles to the medicinal use of cannabis

The research on cannabis is hopeful, but many resistances still have to be overcome. It does not help that it is a banned drug in most countries . Nor that the active principles of the plant are not patentable and that, therefore, there is no industry interested in financing clinical studies with people.

For now, in Spain can only be prescribed synthetic and expensive cannabinoids such as Sativex, Marinol and Cesamet. But synthetic cannabinoids do not achieve the same effects as leaves and flowers, which contain more than a hundred cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids that act in synergy. In contrast, in Holland or Uruguay, the production and prescription of natural cannabis is legal.

Guzmán, who has been studying cannabinoids for 20 years, explains that not having enough support from the industry is not collecting all the experience of doctors, caregivers and patients who use cannabis on their own.

It is surprising that only one plant that exists on Earth is so well adapted to the needs of cancer patients. It is also useful in the treatment of AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel … However, doctors can not prescribe the marijuana plant . Why and until when?