Kent Mao, Contributor
Medical marijuana has been touted as an effective cancer treatment for decades by its various supporters, but despite the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, marijuana remains a sparsely recommended drug for patients with life-threatening illnesses.
On the other hand, large pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to churn out novel cancer treatments at a rapid pace, with each new formula being marketed as a cutting-edge therapy that will revolutionize the global fight against cancer. Unfortunately, this tends to be far from the reality.
A great example of this is a cancer drug called Avastin (bevacizumab). Avastin is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of colon cancer, but has also been used to treat lung cancer, breast cancer, and a specific form of brain cancer known as gliobastoma.
More notably, the drug recently made headline news for a newly uncovered side-effect: flesh-eating disease. Indeed, a safety review released by Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., the makers of the drug, earlier this year, identified 52 cases of flesh-eating disease among patients with an Avastin prescription. 17 of these cases were fatal (1).
But while flesh-eating disease is considered to be one of the rarer side-effects of Avastin, its more frequently-reported side-effects are just as concerning. Clinical trials show that a significant number of Avastin users experience a heightened risk of bleeding, hypertension and gastrointestinal perforation — a hole in the intestines (2).
Unfortunately, such dangerous side-effects are all-too-common among cancer therapies and have come to be accepted as something that patients will simply have to deal with. Up until 2011, when the FDA revoked their prior approval of Avastin for the treatment of breast cancer, it held the title of the best-selling cancer drug in the world (3).
And although follow-up trials showed that Avastin was not effective enough at prolonging overall survival or slowing disease progression in breast cancer patients, it continues to be widely prescribed for colon cancer — a disease that was estimated to claim over 600,000 lives in 2008 (4).
It’s interesting to note that Avastin makes no claim to curing colon cancer or preventing disease-related deaths. Instead, Avastin merely prolongs survival — by an average of less than 5 months, according to clinical trials (5).
All that for a drug that costs over $100,000 per patient for a single year’s worth of treatment (6)? It’s about time that someone took a better look at what medical marijuana has to offer as an alternative treatment for colon cancer.
Luckily, someone already has, by the name of the National Cancer Institute. Listed on their website is an enlightening summary of what medical marijuana research has shown so far (7).
“CBD has also been demonstrated to exert a chemoprotective effect in a mouse model of colon cancer… In in vitro experiments involving colorectal cell lines, the investigators found that CBD protected DNA from oxidative damage, increased endocannabinoid levels, and reduced cell proliferation.”
“In addition, both plant-derived and endogenous cannabinoids have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects. A mouse study demonstrated that endogenous cannabinoid system signaling is likely to provide intrinsic protection against colonic inflammation. As a result, a hypothesis that phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids may be useful in the risk reduction and treatment of colorectal has been developed.”
But such positive evidence shouldn’t be news to anyone that’s been keeping up with cannabis research (8). And while its effectiveness has yet to be evaluated in humans, a direct comparison to Avastin makes the $100,000-a-year drug look downright silly.
Indeed, in subsequent sections, the National Cancer Institute outlines another well-documented aspect of marijuana’s cancer-fighting potential, in the form of angiogenesis inhibition. Angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels, which is over stimulated in most types of cancer and is a primary factor in the growth and metastasis of tumor cells. Angiogenesis inhibition also happens to be the very same mechanism by which Avastin acts against cancer, albeit not by binding to cannabinoid receptors.
So there you have it. Research suggests that medical marijuana not only has the same angiogenesis inhibiting effect as Avastin, but may also be able to protect healthy cells from the toxins associated with chemotherapy as well as reduce cancer cell proliferation and inflammatory responses, all of which Avastin is incapable of doing. Not to mention, the most common side-effects of marijuana are dizziness and fatigue, which is nowhere near as serious as those of traditional pharmaceuticals (9).
But there is one thing that Avastin beats medical marijuana at, and that is funding. Funding, or a lack thereof, is the most blatant reason why medical marijuana will continue to be overlooked by the FDA and medical professionals. Simply put, without millions of dollars to fund clinical trials, medical marijuana cannot compete with the continuous output of deep-pocketed pharmaceutical manufacturers. And you can bet that a large portion of their profits goes towards their lobbying budget, ensuring that publicly-funding marijuana research will remain in its pre-clinical stage for as long as anyone can fathom.
Because once people realize that the most effective cancer treatment can be grown in their own backyards, $100,000 for a year’s supply of Avastin becomes a ridiculous suggestion.
About the Author
Kent Mao is a contributor to Waking Times and the editor of TruthOnPot.com, an online resource for medical marijuana facts, information and research. TruthOnPot.com actively engages in the online discussion of marijuana research and policy. You can learn more by visiting www.truthonpot.com. Kent is also a contributor to Waking Times.
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