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Exploring Men’s Health

Medical Cannabis and Prostate Cancer

One of the most prevalent serious ailments that men may have to contend with is prostate cancer. Approximately one in seven men in Canada will be afflicted with this disease in their lifetime. About a quarter of Canadians diagnosed with prostate cancer will die from it—making it the third most prevalent cause of cancer deaths among Canadian males. This translated to over 4,000 deaths, nationally, in 2017. One of the dangers of prostate cancer is that it is often asymptomatic and, without preventative examination, will often progress to an advanced state without detection.

Cannabis is showing great success in the fight against cancer. Although Health Canada’s mandates will not allow cannabis to be used as a treatment to fight cancer itself, cannabis is approved for treatment for the symptoms and side effects associated with prostate and other cancers. These issues can include decreased appetite, nausea from procedures such as chemotherapy, pain issues, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and others. Even though cannabis is not frontline medicine, those who are able to access it to alleviate some of the side effects still reap the overall health benefits that consuming the medicine provides.

Our bodies contain two sets of Cannabinoid receptors in the brain, C1 and C2. These centres distribute cannabinoids, over 100 different types of medicine contained within the cannabis plant, through an intricate network of passages throughout the body. This helps explain why cannabis is showing promise for a diverse variety of ailments. Researchers such as Dr. Diaz-Laviadia - a Molecular Biologist and empirical researcher from University of Alcala, Spain - are compiling an ever-growing wealth of correlational evidence that suggests “several cannabinoids exert antitumoral properties against prostate cancer, reducing xenograft prostate tumor growth, prostate cancer cell proliferation and cell migration.” This is promising news in an important area of research that is just launching in North America—due to the recent evolution of North American cannabis laws.

Many studies, such as one published by the American Association for Cancer research conducted by Dr. Sarfaraz and his colleagues, are looking directly at how cannabis treatment affects prostate cancer, and frequently conclude with a similar refrain--cell growth inhibition, anti-inflammatory effects, and tumor regression resulting from medicinal cannabis use.  These results are synonymous with a great deal of cannabis research done with other forms of the disease. In 2015, research done by a team of Chilean oncologists, led by Dr. Orellana-Serradell, found marked presence of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid pathways directly to the prostate and concluded that “endocannabinoids are capable of halting the growth of prostate cancer cells through activation of apoptotic mechanisms.” In other words, cannabis distributed through the endocannabinoid system has the potential ability to stop cancer cells from growing.

Studies of cancer tumors have repeatedly suggested that cannabinoids, especially THC, the psychoactive component, can shrink existing cancer tumors—when directly administered. In 2016, research published in the US National Library of Medicine showcased the success of a team of Spanish doctors, biochemists, and molecular biologists that investigated the application on cannabinoids on cancerous animal tumors. Their studies concluded that, “cannabinoids induce tumour cell death and inhibit tumour angiogenesis and invasion in animal models of cancer, and there are indications that they act similarly in patients with glioblastoma.” Yes, cannabis kills cancer cells.

This raises the obvious question—with prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women so prevalent, why has this innocuous plant, which is non-addictive and impossible to overdose on, not at the forefront of research and testing? Instead, damaging and invasive treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are primary treatment methods. Patients don’t even get the personal choice to try something safe and natural. Instead, use of addictive and potentially fatal pharmaceuticals like fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol is the norm.

As one who works in a Medical Cannabis Clinic, I witness the great results and successes of patients with a variety of conditions, including cancer of every type imaginable. It is frustrating knowing how much we can potentially achieve utilizing cannabis medicine and seeing the roadblocks to that success.

It is inevitable that, as more research is completed and empirical evidence is compiled, cannabis will become a primary treatment for cancer—at least in a complementary role. Furthermore, the potential role cannabis can play in the prevention of the development and onset of cancer is even more intriguing. Ironically, the US Federal Government continues to toe the official line that cannabis has no medicinal value. However, they have held an exclusive patent, number 6630507, since 1998, for the use of cannabinoids as antioxidants for a variety of conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV as well as anti-inflammatory, auto-immune and other conditions. Antioxidant is a word synonymous with cancer fighting.

There has historically been an orchestrated stigmatization of cannabis for political and financial reasons and it is long overdue that common sense prevails over self-interested parties and greed. Cannabis is a valuable medicine and is a key component in the fight against and prevention of cancer. Both attitudes and laws must change. We are headed in the right direction in Canada, but more needs to be done, more expediently.

Finally, a heartfelt reminder that ALL men over 50—not only those with issues or symptoms, should undergo a prostate exam—as young as 40 if one has an immediate family member who has suffered prostate cancer. The process can begin with a non-intrusive PSA—or Prostate Specific Antigen blood test. Your doctor will decide if this is sufficient or if a DRE, Digital Rectal Exam, is necessary. Remember, a few unpleasant moments can save your life. Make an appointment for yourself or remind a loved one.

Rick Gillman is a medical cannabis patient, consultant, and veteran freelance writer. He is involved in medical cannabis research and breeding projects--creating more effective medicine. He works for Canadian Cannabis Clinics as a Medical Outreach Educator out of the Collingwood, Ontario clinic.