Cannabis and Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of death in Canada for men. In fact, prostate cancer deaths make up 10 percent of all cancer deaths across the country. Roughly one in seven Canadian men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Someone you know and love, a brother, father, cousin, may develop prostate cancer in the next few years.

On the bright side – prostate cancer is very treatable, and according to the latest statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society, it has a 95 percent five-year net survival rate. But, if you know anyone who has gone through any cancer treatment protocols, you know it’s a battle.

The side effects of chemotherapy and radiation are not pleasant, nor are they pretty. As cannabis research progresses, we are finding out that cannabis might do much more than just sooth the severe side effects of chemotherapy.

Cannabis and Cancer, A Brief Introduction

Cannabis has a long history of co-treatment with conventional cancer treatments. Chemotherapy comes with a host of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, blisters, hair loss, appetite loss, and more. Treatment with cannabis during chemo might not help with hair loss, but it does help with the effects associated with sickness. Cannabis can be highly effective for reducing nausea and vomiting as well as improving appetite, as outlined in a great review on Cancer.gov.

Cannabis and Chemotherapy compared the effects of the plant and a drug called Prochlorperazine (a commonly used med in the treatment of chemotherapy effects) in regards to chemotherapy side effects. During their research, they admitted 214 patients with a diversity of cancers and undergoing a variety of treatments. Patients received either THC or Prochlorperazine. The researchers measured the severity of the side effects and recorded patient preference.

At the end of the study, the researchers noted THC and Prochlorperazine were equally beneficial for reducing the side effects of chemotherapy. Furthermore, any side effects from the THC (presumably the ‘high’) did not influence patient preference. Other older studies from as far back as the 1980s found patients frequently preferred cannabis over conventional Prochlorperazine.

Cannabis has also been found useful for improving appetite and weight during treatment. In addition, cancer patients widely use cannabis for cancer-related pain. There are several small, but nevertheless valuable, studies showing how effective cannabis is for cancer-related pain. Chronic cancer-related pain is often resistant to opioid medications but receptive to cannabinoids.

Two studies on cancer-pain and cannabis are worth highlighting. The first, called “Analgesic effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol” gave different doses of oral THC to patients suffering from cancer pain. The authors concluded, “Pain relief significantly superior to placebo was demonstrated at high dose levels (15 and 20 mg).”

The second study (a follow-up) compared oral cannabis in 10 mg doses to a comparable pain reliever – codeine. These studies found that 10 mg of THC was equivalent to 60 mg of codeine, and 20 mg of THC equal to 120 mg of codeine. Later studies comparing mixtures of THC and CBD to only THC to a placebo found that a combination THC:CBD worked most effectively for reducing pain.

Beyond cannabis’ ability to improve appetite and weight, reduce nausea and vomiting, and reduce pain; early evidence also suggests cannabis may combat tumor growth. It’s important to note there are no clinical studies to date showing these antitumor effects, but many studies based on animals or in Petri dishes.

In these preliminary studies, cannabis has demonstrated its “antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis invasion and metastasis.” There is evidence of these effects on a wide variety of cancer cells, including prostate. Unlike chemotherapy, cannabis targets cancer cells but protects the surrounding healthy tissue.

Many patients have begun incorporating cannabis into their treatment protocols as a way to combat the many side effects of conventional cancer treatment. At the time of writing, the National Cancer Institute had only one clinical trial listed, but it was for the effects of radiation, not as antitumor research.

Cannabinoid Receptors Make a Difference in Prostate Cancer

Everyone is waiting for robust clinical studies on cannabis and cancer, including, of course, on prostate cancer specifically. Until then, we can look at the current theories and discussion points. Is cannabis a value-added option for men with prostate cancer?

In some of the most extensive literature to date, “The role of cannabinoids in prostate cancer: Basic science perspective and potential clinical applications,” from the Indian Journal of Urology, the authors examined cannabis for prostate cancer treatment. The information contained in this publication outlines a compelling argument for further research.

As the authors explain, cannabinoids are very intriguing because of their ability to agonize (meaning activate) both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Both receptors are part of our endocannabinoid system. Why does this matter for prostate cancer treatment? Earlier research has demonstrated that cultured prostate cancer cells have much higher concentrations of both CB1 and CB2 receptors compared to healthy surrounding tissues.

This high concentration of receptors in those cells means that prostate cancer would be highly receptive to cannabinoid therapy. When treated with another type of agonist (called WIN-55,212-2) researchers have measured a “dose and time-dependent decrease in cell viability”, also known as survival rate.

Furthermore, the cannabinoid reduced the expression of something called “prostate-specific antigen”. This is a substance secreted by prostate glands, and physicians use it as a screening tool for prostate cancer. Higher levels of prostate-specific antigen predict prostate cancer. Early studies have discovered that cannabinoid activating chemicals, similar to those found in cannabis, reduce the level of measurable prostate-specific antigen, and its expression.

Confused yet? Essentially scientists theorize that cannabinoids may reduce the levels of this antigen, possibly reducing the risk of or expression of prostate cancer.

While still early days, there is a lot of evidence paving the way for further research. It hasn’t stopped many people from combining cannabis oil with their chemotherapy treatment. At the very least, it may help with nausea, vomiting, and cancer-related pain. At best, it might also combat the cancer cells themselves.

What’s the Best Method for Treating Prostate Cancer with Cannabis?
Because there are no clinical trials, and no regulation on cannabis for cancer, nobody can say for sure what method works best for treating prostate cancer. Proper cannabis dosing for any medical condition is something best left to discuss with your doctor. This is of the utmost importance when combining with other medications like you would during chemo.

With that warning aside, we know everyone turns to Dr. Google these days before heading to the doctors. What does the internet say about dosing cannabis for cancer? If you noticed above, one scientific study found 10 mg and 20 mg of oral THC worked for reducing cancer-related pain. However, it’s worth noting that they also found 20 mg doses came with higher adverse reaction (strong intoxication).

If you want to use higher potency preparations, as done in this study, you’ll want to move away from smokables and vaped products. Try oral preparations like tinctures, concentrates, homemade edibles, and capsules.

Rick Simpson, the Canadian grandfather of medicinal cannabis, is well known for his story of curing cancer with cannabis. He has been traveling the world, teaching people about his experience and practices for well over a decade.

Although not a doctor, he recommends treating cancer with up to one gram (1 milliliter) of highly concentrated cannabis oil with a ratio of THC:CBD dependent on your tolerance per day. He proposes taking three to five weeks to increase a small dose up to this high amount. He also suggests splitting the dose up into three smaller doses a day. Notably, he takes his daily dose in a Rick Simpson Oil format, which is made-at-home concentrated cannabis oil. For prostate cancer, suppositories of cannabis oil may also be of value.

An Enticing Start to Research, But Real Results are a Long Way Off
We might sound like a broken record, but there are no clinical studies on cannabis for treating cancer, let alone specifically for prostate cancer. We’ve seen exciting hints from preliminary studies, but human trials are still in the distance for now.

Cannabis is recognized in many medical circles as an effective co-therapy for cancer pain, nausea, and appetite – but you should always work with your doctor before jumping into it head first. Medical cannabis advocates respect folks like Rick Simpson, but he is also not a doctor. Take what you will from his recommendations but take those recommendations to your doctor first. It does look like there is a big future for cannabinoids like THC and CBD in cancer treatments, but clinical results are a long way off.