Marijuana for Treatment of Brain Cancer

overview

Brain cancer is a medical condition where cancer cells develop in the brain tissue. As they grow, they form a tumor on the brain that interferes with normal brain functions. These include memory, sensation and muscle control. Sometimes, the cancer cells originate from the brain itself. The tumors formed in this way are referred to as primary brain tumors. Alternatively, the tumor in the brain may develop as a result of cancer cells from another body part reaching the brain. These are known as secondary brain tumors.

Brain cancer results in the formation of a tumor on the brain or the spinal cord. Some symptoms of the disease arise from the pressure the cancer cells apply on normal tissue. They include headaches, seizures, jerks, twitches or even spasms. In some cases, individuals may experience loss of consciousness followed by contractions. Other symptoms of brain cancer include nausea, fatigue, drowsiness and memory problems.

Conventional treatment methods

Each treatment plan is specialized towards the patient with brain cancer. The majority of people who have brain cancer undergo surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy to treat their diseases. Surgery typically involves a surgeon cutting away the malignant tumor. Radiation, on the other hand, includes a doctor destroying the cancer cells by high-energy radiation. Chemotherapy uses different chemical agents to kill cancer cells in the brain. Avastin, for example, is one of the drugs used to treat brain cancer through chemotherapy.

How cannabis helps in the treatment of brain cancer

Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Madrid have investigated the use of cannabis-based treatments to kill glioma cells. Glioma cells usually make up 80 percent or more of malignant-type brain cancers. In one of the studies conducted by the team led by Dr. Velasco, they found positive effects of cannabis in the inhibition of glioma cells. The application of THC (one of marijuana’s most well known cannabinoids) on these cells caused them to stop growing. In this way, medical marijuana inhibited the propagation of the tumor.

With continuous administration of THC on the brain tumor, glioma cells began to die. Medical marijuana has been proven to kill glioblastoma cells in different ways. A 2004 study highlights that cannabis alters the genes for cancer cells that have the VEGF trait. VEGF stands for vascular endothelial growth factor. When cells are growing, the VEGF compound helps them create more blood vessels to facilitate their growth. The study showed that application of cannabinoid medicines limited VEGF present in the tumor, therefore reducing its blood supply. This stopped cancer cells from growing.

As a result of the reduced blood supply caused by cannabis, cancer cells are starved of nutrients. The cells then commit suicide in a process referred to as ‘programmed cell death’. The administration of THC caused the cancer cells to automatically digest themselves, therefore eradicating them.

A 2006 pilot study had nine patients with brain cancer that was unresponsive to conventional treatment methods get treated with medical marijuana. Eight of the nine patients had a positive response to the treatment. Doses of THC were administered to their brains directly. The patients typically had 24 weeks to live. With treatment from medical marijuana, however, two of the nine patients were able to live on for another year. In these ways, cannabis proved useful for the treatment of brain cancer.

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