Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American Men and is considered a global public health problem. About 12.9% of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Unfortunately, like many types of cancer, the condition can be difficult to treat. This is especially true for metastatic prostate cancer, which is prostate cancer that spreads to other parts of the body. Yet, a collection of recent evidence shows that cannabis may kill prostate cancer cells. Here’s how:

Cannabis and cancer research


There is a lot of buzz around using cannabis to ease symptoms of chemotherapy and even as an anti-cancer treatment. Thus far, there have been no large-scale human trials of using cannabis extracts as a cancer treatment.

However, one small 2006 pilot study administered THC treatments to nine patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain tumor. THC is the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant.

The patients had already received standard treatments and received a second surgery to remove the tumor before THC administration. THC was given intracranially, which is a particularly invasive way of delivering the medicine.

The median life expectancy after the second surgery was 24 weeks. Two of the patients lived survived up to 1 year with THC treatment. The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

More human trials have been completed for cannabinoid therapy for chemotherapy-related nausea, vomiting, and pain. Australian researchers are beginning a trial of real cannabis extracts for cancer patients with treatment-resistant nausea and vomiting. Already, two synthetic cannabinoid medications are available to chemotherapy patients.

Dronabinol (Marinol) and Nabilone (Cesamet) are often prescribed to patients when common nausea relief is ineffective. Other pharmaceutical companies offer cannabis-derived medications for cancer pain in Canada.

Different forms of cancer may respond differently to cannabis medicines. While the little human research available is positive, it’s likely that not all cancers will see the same results. However, in terms of prostate cancer, recent pre-clinical evidence sheds light onto what may work in the future.

Cannabis for prostate cancer

Prostate Cancer The 2 Prostate Cancer: The Evidence For Medical Cannabis
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Laboratory and animal research on cannabis for prostate cancer has had positive results. In 2012, a paper discussing the potential clinical applications of the herb found that pre-clinical evidence is promising enough to warrant clinical trials of cannabinoids medicines as anti-cancer agents.

The authors conclude that cannabis may be a valuable new therapeutic tool,

[…] especially in men with bone metastatic prostate cancer, whom would not only benefit from the possible anti­androgenic effects of cannabinoids but also from analgesia of bone pain, improving quality of life, while reducing narcotic consumption and preventing opioid dependence.

The review also cited research affirming that prostate cancer cells have increased expression cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are like locks for cannabinoids like THC. The human body creates its own compounds that are very similar to THC, called endocannabinoids.

These endocannabinoids have a variety of functions in the body, including the regulation of mood, memory, immunity, metabolism, sleep, and pain. The increased amount of receptors on prostate cancer cells is a sign that something is out of balance with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

As a plant that engages the ECS, cannabis is an important prospect for cancer research. Further research from 2010 suggests that the antiproliferative properties of omega-3 essential fatty acid derivatives are caused by interaction with the endocannabinoid system.

A hormone thing
Prostate Cancer The 3 Prostate Cancer: The Evidence For Medical Cannabis
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Cannabis may prove to be a particularly novel therapy for prostate cancer, partly because of hormones called androgens. Testosterone is an androgen. Androgens are male sex hormones that cause prostate cells to grow. One contemporary treatment for prostate cancer is called androgen deprivation therapy, which slows cancer growth by suppressing androgens.

Some studies show that cannabis has anti-androgenic effects. While this may be a point of contention for many body-builders, androgen suppression would be advantageous when treating prostate cancer. For this reason, the compounds in cannabis are particularly of interest for diseases of the prostate.

For those concerned about the psychoactive qualities of cannabis, there may be other promising options. In 2012, a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that non-THC cannabinoids have anti-tumor effects in prostate cancer cells.

In some tests nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) caused cancer cells to self-destruct, a process more formally known as apoptosis. Cannabinoid treatment decreased the viability of the prostate cancer cells, though CBD produced the strongest effect.

The authors point out that these results are similar to earlier research on cannabis and glioma (brain tumor) cells.

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