Medical Cannabis and Cancer Research
Cannabis has been used for medical purposes dating back at least 3,000 years. It was in the 1840s when cannabis was first introduced to Western medicine by W.B. O’Shaughnessy, a medical doctor who worked in India for the British East Indies Company.
Back then cannabis was a useful treatment option for analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anticonvulsant benefits. The United States Treasury Department introduced the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937. This Act enforced a levy of $1 an ounce of medical cannabis and $100 an ounce for recreational use. In the United States, the medical doctors were the principal opponents of this Act.
The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the Act since physicians had to pay a special tax for recommending medical cannabis, use special order forms to obtain it, and extra record-keeping for prescribing it.
Also, the AMA rejected the “idea” that cannabis was harmful and they knew that by adopting the Act it would further impede scientific research into cannabis’ medicinal value. In 1942, cannabis was eliminated from the United States’ Pharmacopoeia.
Then in 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which classified cannabis with illegal and dangerous narcotic drugs. And in 1970, with the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis was then classified as a Schedule 1 drug by Federal Law. Drugs that are classified as a “Schedule 1” Drug are illegal and said to have “no accepted medical use,” and other drugs in this category include heroin, mescaline, methaqualone, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
Cannabis was (and still is) classified as having no medical use by the United States government, even though cannabis was distributed to patients in a federal project established in 1978 called the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug program. The program was discontinued in 1992.
What Are Cannabinoids and How Do They Work?
“Cannabinoids” is a blanket term covering a “family” of complex-chemicals that lock onto cannabinoid receptors (which are protein molecules on the surface of cells). The cannabis plant produces a resin, which contains this large, psychoactive “cannabinoid family” of chemical compounds.
For 1000s of years humans have used cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, but cannabinoids themselves were first extracted from cannabis plants in the 1940s.
The structure of the main ingredient of cannabis – delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – was discovered in the 1960s. It had not been until the late 1980s that scientist discovered the first cannabinoid receptor, quickly followed by another discovery: humans develop cannabinoid-like chemicals within our bodies, called endocannabinoids.
The strongest potency of cannabinoids is found in the female flowers of the cannabis plant.
“Cannabinoid Family,” Cannabis and Cancer Research
Cannabis cancer research and clinical trials have been limited since the plant is a Schedule 1 drug, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has not approved the use of cannabis as a treatment option for any medical condition.
Recently, recognition has been made by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) acknowledging the benefits of using cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.
The NCI is a leader introducing the patient to clinical research to help ensure that new treatment discoveries are translated into potential cannabis and cancer therapies. This recognition has helped support a “new world” of herbal medicines starting with cannabis to be commonly accepted as a medical treatment option.
“When cannabis regains its place in the United States Pharmacopeia, a status it lost after the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, it will be seen as one of the safest drugs in that compendium,” according to Lester Grinspoon, Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Let’s Recap Cannabis and Cancer
This summary will provide a quick overview of medical cannabis and it being available for patients as an herbal therapy option for cancer. Some key details to recap:
- Cannabis has actually been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.
- The possession and use of cannabis are illegal by federal law in the United States (and many places around the world as well).
- Chemical components of cannabis, called cannabinoids, trigger specific receptors located throughout the body to create a pharmacologic response, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.
- Medical cannabis has NOT been approved by the FDA as a treatment option for cancer nor any other medical conditions.
- Cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical drugs are commercially available, such as dronabinol and nabilone, are APPROVED by the FDA (!?!?) to be prescribed by doctors as a medical treatment.
There are important legal differences between medical cannabis at the federal and state levels in the United States of America. Still, at the federal level cannabis has been made illegal by the Controlled Substances Act, but as of 2009, new federal guidelines have been enacted.
According to United States Attorney General Eric Holder, “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana.”
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