A New Study Suggests Cannabis Could Treat Cervical Cancer
A new study suggests that cannabis might be useful in treating cervical cancer.
Through in vitro, or test tube/petri dish, analysis, researchers from the biochemistry department at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa found that the non-psychotropic cannabinoid, or chemical compound, CBD (cannabidiol), taken from a Cannabis sativa extract, could hold anticarcinogenic properties. They pointed out that cannabis acted on the cancerous cells through apoptosis, or a process of cell death, causing only the cancerous cells to kill themselves, and inhibiting their growth.
Cervical cancer is no longer a leading cause of death as much as it used to be in the United States, thanks in large part to the widespread use of pap smears, but it’s still a widespread threat. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, it kills 250,000 women every year. “This makes it the most lethal cancer amongst black women and calls for urgent therapeutic strategies,” the study’s authors wrote in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal. “In this study we compare the anti-proliferative effects of crude extract of Cannabis sativa and its main compound cannabidiol on different cervical cancer cell lines.”
It will take much more research before cannabis can be integrated into official cervical cancer treatments in sub-Saharan Africa. But earlier studies also shows that cannabis has been useful in treating not only the symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy, but also the cancer itself.
One study from the journal of Current Clinical Pharmacology found that cannabis served as a preventative agent, reducing inflammation, which researchers also said was useful in reducing the likelihood of cancer. Another study from Oncology Hematology also noted cannabis’ anti-cancer effects, explaining how the plant’s cannabinoids inhibited tumor growth in vitro, such as in a petri dish or test tube, and in vivo, or a living organism.
A handful of other studies have also looked into cannabis as a treatment specifically for cervical cancer. Another from the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, found that the cannabinoids, including the body’s own endocannabinoids, offered “attractive opportunities for the development of novel potent anticancer drugs.”
At the same time, there could also be carcinogenic effects of cannabis smoke, especially for cancer patients. One study in France found that “increased risks of lung or colorectal cancer due to marijuana smoking were not observed, but increased risks of prostate and cervical cancers among non-tobacco smokers…were observed.”
With that said, often medical marijuana is ingested via capsules, tinctures, vaporizable oils, and other non-smokeable, more pharmaceutical-style forms. Should cannabis eventually become approved for cervical cancer treatment in Africa, it may be up for debate whether whole plant therapy (in which all the cannabinoids work synergistically through the “entourage effect”) or specific cannabinoid therapy is best.
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Using Cannabis for Cervical Cancer: What the Current Research Says
Potentially Useful Cannabis Compounds for Cervical Cancer
Medical cannabis may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy and may help treat side effects associated with cervical cancer and its treatment including:
- Chronic pain.
- Appetite loss.
It’s also an excellent alternative to opioids for mid-to-long-term pain control.
- Patients may require extremely high doses of cannabinoids to get the effects.
- Most evidence is lab results on cell lines and questionnaires with a low number of participants, so more evidence is needed.
- Little knowledge on which specific cannabinoids will be useful, and at what dosage.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer is a condition where cells grow uncontrollably in a specific part of the body. Cancers can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cervical cancer is cancer that’s found anywhere in the cervix, the opening between the vagina and the womb (uterus). The current five-year survival rate for cervical cancer in the US is 66.3 percent .
Nearly all cervical cancers (approx 90 percent) are caused by an infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) . About 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the US annually, with 4,290 women dying from cervical cancer every year. Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer . In low-income countries, it is one of the most common causes of cancer death.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
- Pelvic pain.
- Pain during (and possibly bleeding after) sexual intercourse.
Current Cervical Cancer Treatments
Cervical cancer is treated by a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and sometimes surgery. Pap tests are used to detect potentially precancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix or colon, allowing for earlier treatment.
Why Medical Cannabis Could Be Useful for Cervical Cancer
Studies show that medical cannabis could be useful in the treatment of cervical cancer. One study shows that, out of 31 women with cervical cancer, 83% reported that medical cannabis provided relief for their cancer or treatment-related symptoms. Medical cannabis helped with the following:
- Lowering opioid use (63 percent).
- Decreased appetite (41 percent).
- Insomnia (41 percent).
- Neuropathy (nerve pain 41 percent).
- Anxiety (35 percent).
- Nausea (29 percent).
- Joint pain (29 percent).
- Bone pain (29 percent).
- Abdominal pain (25 percent).
- Depression (19 percent).
Lab studies using cell lines suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) in particular may be helpful for cervical cancer treatment.
A systematic review of medical cannabis for gynecological pain in general (including cancer, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, pelvic pain, and many more), published in 2022 shows that doses of up to 70 mg THC and 2000 mg CBD per week helped relieve pain in between 61% to 95.5% of the women studied.
There have been concerns over cannabis usage, its immunomodulatory effects, and a positive cross-sectional association with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related head and neck cancer. There is no data suggesting that cannabis increases cervical HPV burden, however.
Even though the results look positive, similar problems show up in these studies as they do with many others regarding medical cannabis. These issues include:
- Low sample sizes.
- Rarely discernment between different types of cannabis.
- Related to the above, rarely any differentiation between different doses and concentrations of particular cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
- Lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
- Lab studies don’t always reflect real life, and particularly high doses of cannabinoids may be needed — doses exceeding that of average non-medical adult use.
In several lab studies , cannabinoids have been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of human cervical carcinoma cells. Cannabidiol (CBD) may be of particular use, but in some cases, a chemically similar version (an analog) of anandamide, methanandamide, was used. It seems that increasing anandamide concentration in the body may be of particular help.
Inhibiting COX-2 enzymes, which are common in sites of inflammation, could be key to treating cervical (and other) types of cancer . Inhibition of COX-2 enzymes may also help treat cancer pain and increase the efficacy of chemotherapy.
Cannabinoids, Terpenes & Flavonoids for Cervical Cancer
- CBD may be particularly useful for gynecological cancers.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may inhibit endometrial cancer proliferation and migration.
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) may be useful as well as it may enhance anandamide’s anticancer effect.
- Flavonoids in cannabis, like kaempferol and luteolin , possess antitumor activity. like myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, and pinene have anticancer properties.
Although there is little information on dosing for cervical cancer specifically, here’s a few things that may help with respect to the evidence above:
- Choose CBD-rich product.
- Having some THCV and THC in the product could also be useful.
- Cannabis oils (tinctures), CBD-rich cultivars (“strains“) & concentrates, suppositories, and cannabinoid-infused tampons may all be suitable ingestion methods.
- Choose a product rich in terpenes and flavors.
Why Might Medical Cannabis Help Treat Cancer Generally?
Cancer is a complicated subject, as there are many different types of cancer that require different methods of treatment. Cannabis is no different in this regard, with different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids working together to produce different effects.
This means that medical cannabis may be useful for some types of cancer, have a neutral effect, or even potentially have a negative effect. In addition, some types of cancer may require specific dosages of cannabinoids in order to be effective.
So, let’s simplify what is otherwise a very complicated area of research that has a lot of heavy science involved.
plays a role in the development of most types of cancer (and indeed disease in general).
- Different types of inflammation cause different kinds of cancer. Think of inflammation as a pathway , or a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure book . Different stressors cause cells to pick different options, leading to more different outcomes, and eventually an ending.
- Cannabinoids play a fundamental role in immunomodulation (change the body’s immune system reaction) and homeostasis (balance) in general. This means that cannabinoids can induce, amplify, attenuate or prevent different kinds of inflammation.
- Cancerous cells are like a Trojan Horse. Our bodies actually get cancer all the time. It’s just that, usually, our bodies recognize these cells as cancerous and fight them off.
- Should your body receive a particular set of stressors (e.g. another bad infection or illness, insomnia, an unhealthy diet, smoking, lack of exercise), the more corrupted, mutated, cancerous cells your body develops.
- Should the stressors be regular enough and cause regular inflammation, the more likely you are to eventually develop cancer, as the body stops recognizing a damaged and mutated cell. This allows cancerous cells to proliferate.
- Cannabinoids derived from cannabis (phytocannabinoids) can help battle cancer-induced inflammation and instruct cancerous cells to “stop” or “self-destruct” (apoptosis).
When it comes to understanding cancer of any kind, it is worth keeping the above in mind. Cancer is worth approaching as a systemic disease , where endocannabinoid system (ECS) dysfunction can cause inflammation. Keeping the ECS in balance may help treat cancer, and possibly help in preventing it as well.
It is also worth keeping in mind that not all types of cancer are responsive to cannabinoids or involve the ECS . This means that, for some types of cancer, cannabis will be ineffective or even negative . The evidence so far suggests that cervical cancer is cannabinoid-responsive. However, we recommend speaking to your oncologist and/or primary care physician before going on a medical cannabis treatment program.
Article written by
Dipak Hemraj Head of Research and Education
Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture and economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.
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