Cannabis and Cancer: Searching for a Cure

A recent study published in Urology medical journal’s February issue supports the hypothesis that cannabis use may be linked with a lowered risk of developing certain types of cancer. This is not the first study to demonstrate this result. Researchers around the world have studied the link between marijuana use and cancer for decades.

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for over 3,000 years. In the United States, its use as a palliative drug for individuals suffering from pain, sexual problems, and low appetites stretches back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, thousands of Americans rely on the substance for pain relief and other medical benefits.

A Decreased Risk of Bladder Cancer in Men

The study was conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center Department of Neurology. During its course, the researchers tracked 80,000 men ages 45-69 over a period of eleven years to determine any correlation between cannabis and tobacco use and the development of bladder cancer. After adjusting for race, age, ethnicity and body mass index, the researchers found that tobacco use was associated with a higher than average risk of developing bladder cancer while cannabis use was linked with a lower risk of developing the disease.

34,000, or 41%, of the participants reported using cannabis during the study period. 47,092, approximately 57% of the men, reported tobacco use.

Of the men who reported using cannabis, 89, approximately .3%, developed bladder cancer. Of those who did not use cannabis, 190, or approximately .4% of the participants, developed the disease.

Brown University and Other Studies

In 2009, researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island published a the results of a similar study that they had conducted in Cancer Prevention Research. This study examined the correlation between long-term cannabis use and neck and head cancers. In this study, 434 patients suffering from head and neck squamous cell carcinoma were tracked alongside 547 matched controls. The researchers focused on the participants’ cannabis use and found that the individuals who used cannabis in moderate amounts had lower incidences of developing this disease. This included individuals who also used alcohol and tobacco, two known contributors to developing head and neck squamous carcinoma.

A 2006 study by researchers at UCLA showed no link between moderate to heavy marijuana use and respiratory cancers.

Cannabis: The Cure?

We still can’t say for sure whether or not moderate marijuana use can reduce your risk of developing cancer. We do know that cannabis smoke, much like tobacco smoke, contains known carcinogens such as benzopyrene. However, unlike tobacco use, cannabis use has not been definitively linked with the development of certain cancers.

What we do have is a growing body of research that indicates a link between a lowered risk of certain cancers and moderate cannabis use. We also know that the human immune system contains cannabinoid receptors, further supporting the theory that cannabis is positively linked with immunity.

As more studies are published about the link between cannabis use and increased immunity, it will become more difficult to ignore the role this plant can have in helping millions of Americans suffering from a myriad of diseases.

Photo Credit: Luca Volpi

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