Medical Cannabis and Pancreatic Cancer: 5 Things You Need to Know

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In today’s day and age it is very unlikely that your life or the life of someone you know has not been impacted by cancer. Cancer is a scary and life threatening disease which is difficult to cure and, frankly speaking, devastates the lives of those involved. Pancreatic cancer, while not one of the most common, is unfortunately one of the cancer types with the lowest rates of survival. According to the National Cancer Institute there will be an estimated 56,000 new cases this year and the 5 year survival rate is estimated to be only 9%. The good news is that with proper care and treatment, patients can fight against these odds and successfully manage their symptoms. Many patients have been successful in using medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, as an alternative and in conjunction with their treatment plans. Let us look at 5 things a patient needs to know when considering medical cannabis for pancreatic cancer.

  1. Understand Pancreatic Cancer.  There are two types of pancreatic cancer: Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer and Pancreatic Endocrine Tumors. The majority of pancreas cancer is found in the exocrine cells. Approximately 95% of these exocrine pancreatic cancers are made up of pancreatic adenocarcinomas and usually begin in the ducts of the pancreas. Pancreatic Endocrine Tumors (NETs) are much rarer than exocrine pancreatic cancer but can be more dangerous. Functioning NETs create hormones which can travel to the bloodstream and create unpleasant symptoms. If the NETS are of the non-functioning type they can grow very large in size before they are noticed. Some of the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer are jaundice, diabetes, abdominal pain, blood clots, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and depression.
  2. Typical Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer.  The treatment type used for pancreatic cancer can vay and often depends upon factors such as the overall health of the patient, any allergies they may have, and the type and stage of cancer present. The four main types of treatment are: surgery, ablation and embolization, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery can be used to completely remove the cancer if detected early enough. If the cancer has progressed, a patient can still undergo surgery in an effort to attempt to reduce the severity of their symptoms. Ablation and embolization attempts to destroy the cancer without removing it. Ablation involves the use of extreme temperatures to destroy the cancer and embolization blocks the flow of blood to the cancerous area in an effort to kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy is often used as a replacement for surgery or as a supplement. The hope is that radiation will prevent the cancer from returning to the treated areas. Chemotherapy drugs are often prescribed for both types of pancreatic cancer. However, these drugs target healthy cells in addition to the cancerous cells and have many unpleasant side effects such as nausea, hair loss, digestive problems, and a compromised immune system. In fact, not all patients are candidates for these treatments and many are turning to medical cannabis as an alternative.
  3. How Medical Cannabis Helps.  Medical cannabis can treat many of the negative symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer with the added bonus of relieving many of the unpleasant side effects associated with its treatment. 
    • Pain Relief: The pressure and inflammation caused by pancreatic cancer and tumors can be very painful and cannabis is a known pain reliever with strong anti-inflammatory properties. The compounds in cannabis known as THC and CBD work together to relieve pain without the side effects and addiction potential of prescribed painkillers. 
    • Antiemetic Properties: pancreatic cancer and the treatments for it often cause patients to feel nauseous and queasy. The chemical compounds in cannabis provide relief from both nausea and vomiting.
    • Stimulating Appetite: Cannabis, or marijuana, is known for certain strains causing an effect known as “the munchies.” This is wonderful for cancer patients struggling with appetite loss and is beneficial in ensuring patients receive adequate nourishment while undergoing treatment.
    • Energy and Fatigue: While cannabis may be well-known for its ability to aid insomnia, the proper strain and dosage can actually boost energy for those fighting cancer. Medical cannabis made from a strain high in sativa can be stimulating and create an uplifting feeling while strains high in indica will have the opposite effect and help patients unwind and receive restorative sleep.
  4. What the research says. While the conversation of medical cannabis is still growing, there are already many studies which show that cannabis can treat and attack cancer cells effectively.  A recent study in Germany looked at the cannabinoids found in medical cannabis and how it affected the pain level of pancreatic cancer patients. The study found that when these cannabinoids were used, the patients’ immune response did not change but their pain levels were significantly decreased while their survivability levels increased! Another study published in the journal Cancer Research observed the relationship between cannabinoids from medical cannabis and pancreatic cancer cells directly and what they found was incredible. Pancreatic cells have many receptor sites for cannabinoids and as a result they are more reactive when cannabinoids are introduced. This could be the reason why the scientists were able to observe the amazing process of cellular apoptosis: that is, the programmed death of cancer cells. In other words, the chemical compounds derived from cannabis were able to kill the cancer cells directly. Perhaps even more astonishingly, the cancer cells were killed without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.
  5. How to use Medical Cannabis for Pancreatic Cancer. There are various methods of using medical cannabis, each with their own benefits and a few with some negative drawbacks. Smoking cannabis is the most popular but is not recommended for treating pancreatic cancer. Instead, a full extract cannabis oil (FECO) is the route of administration preferred by medical cannabis experts. This strong and sticky oil needs to be taken under the care of a qualified medical cannabis practitioner and with a responsible treatment plan as the dosage must be taken with precision and increased over time. Other methods of administration include cannabis oil tinctures, topical oils and salves, vaporizers, and edibles. Each of these methods has a unique way of working with the body’s chemistry and some take effect sooner while others are best for long-lasting effects. It is highly recommended that each patient speak with an experienced medical cannabis practitioner before beginning a medical cannabis protocol. The correct strain, dosage, and method of ingestion is crucial for the treatment of pancreatic cancer and its related symptoms.

 

Further Reading:

https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/cancer-site/Pancreas

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/what-is-pancreatic-cancer.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11269508

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2225529/

http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/66/13/6748.full

https://febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1016/j.febslet.2006.02.024

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31289609