Prostate cancer is an established public health concern in modern society and has been for decades. It is the most common cancer in men (asides from non-melanoma skin cancer) and the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Even with widespread screening with prostate-specific antigen (PSA), still 5% of cases present with metastatic lesions at the time of diagnosis. Because of all this, there is a fundamental necessity to search for and find new and novel treatments to this common pathology. Cannabis and cannabinoids have often been an issue of much polemics in the realm of science, but since the discovery of cannabinoid receptors in rat brain in the late 1980s, there has been a growing interest in the research of these compounds and our knowledge continues to expand. There has been experimental evidence that cannabinoids possess anti-androgenic proprieties (blocking the effects of androgens, such as testosterone).
UNDERSTANDING PROSTATE CANCER
Like all cancers, prostate cancer begins when cells begin to grow uncontrollably. In this particular case, the man’s prostate gland starts to grow way bigger than the average walnut-size.
In the United States, prostate cancer hits African-American men aged 50 years old and above the most. The most probable reason for this is either genetics or unhealthy eating habits, such as a diet composed mainly of fatty food.
TYPES OF PROSTATE CANCER
Prostate cancer can manifest in different parts of the gland. As stated in several research findings that have been conducted, 25% of the cases are metastatic during the time of diagnosis.
Commonly, the disease begins with symptoms of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), or simply an enlarged prostate gland in layman’s terms. BPH is common among men in their 50’s, but only 10% need medical or surgical intervention.
But once it worsens and becomes malignant and cancerous, and these types of cancer are:
- Prostatic adenocarcinoma
- Small cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Prostatic sarcomas
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PROSTATE CANCER
Patients with early prostate cancer typically don’t experience any symptoms. However, in more advanced stages, they can have symptoms like:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Weak or slow urinary stream
- Erectile dysfunction
- Blood in the semen or urine
- Change in bladder or bowel functions
- Pain in areas where the cancer has spread
In addition to the symptoms associated with prostate cancer, prostate cancer patients deal with symptoms caused by any type of cancer. Cancer symptoms have the potential to severely impact daily functioning and quality of life. General cancer symptoms include:
- Chronic pain
- Rapid and unexplained weight loss
PROSTATE CANCER FACTS AND STATISTICS
- Ninety-nine percent of prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, or cancers that form in the body’s gland cells.
- For men, prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death.
- Despite that number, people with prostate cancer have a high survival rate. They have a 99 percent chance of surviving after five years, a 98 percent of surviving after 10 years and a 96 percent chance of surviving after 15 years.
- One in seven men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in his lifetime.
- Having a first-degree relative with prostate cancer more than doubles your risk of getting it yourself.
Traditional Prostate Cancer Treatments & Their Side Effects
Treatment for prostate cancer varies according to the ‘stage’ the disease is in. For example, stage I prostate cancer could involve radiation therapy. In stage III, you may require external radiation plus hormone therapy. Because the range of treatments varies, so do the side effects which include:
- Bowel dysfunction
- Urinary dysfunction
- Loss of fertility
- Erectile dysfunction
While the majority of treatments for localized prostate cancer are excellent, an increasing number of men are looking at medical cannabis as a natural alternative.
MEDICAL CANNABIS FOR THE TREATMENT OF PROSTATE CANCER
Cannabis has been championed as a means of easing chemotherapy symptoms for some time, but exciting new research suggests it could be capable of killing cancer cells. Positive results in lab tests on animals led to the publishing of a significant paper in 2012. In it, the author claims that pre-clinical evidence was sufficient to warrant clinical trials of cannabinoid medicines as anti-cancer treatments. The paper cited a 2005 study which suggested that prostate cancer cells have increased expression cannabinoid receptors.
Once again, it all comes down to the impact of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) or more pertinently, the impact of weed on the ECS. The excessive number of receptors found on prostate cancer cells suggest that all is not well within the ECS.
Unlike many drugs on the pharmaceutical market, cannabis can relieve multiple symptoms at once with minor side effects. While it cannot help with problems related to the urethra, such as difficulty urinating, it serves as an excellent supplement to cancer treatment by reducing cancer symptoms and side effects from treatment. Here are the ways that medical marijuana can help you as a cancer patient:
- Cannabis reduces the pain caused by tumour pressure, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical procedures. Most of the states that allow medical marijuana use approve chronic pain as a valid condition for the drug, and for good reason. Pain is one of the most researched and documented conditions successfully treated with medical cannabis.
- Marijuana stimulates your appetite and reduces nausea. While cancer causes both loss of appetite and weight loss, harsher treatments like chemotherapy cause nausea. Marijuana works as both an appetite stimulant and antiemetic, making it easier to get the nutrition you need.
- Certain strains of weed can give you an energy boost when cancer wears you out. Using a Sativa strain can clear your mind and kickstart your productivity.
- Or, if you need help sleeping due to cancer symptoms causing insomnia, Indica strains provide sedation and relaxation. You need to get as much rest as possible when you have a disease like cancer.
A potentially ground-breaking benefit of medical marijuana we’re still researching is its ability to kill cancer cells and keep them from spreading. Combined with its painkilling abilities, cannabis could work as the cancer medication hiding right under our noses.
Some of the strongest, and most widely agreed-upon, clinical evidence regarding the use of medical marijuana is in the area of the treatment of cancer patients. Numerous clinical studies have shown the benefits offered by medical marijuana to cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in medical marijuana. Clinical research has shown that CBD contains properties that relieve convulsion, inflammation, anxiety and nausea. It could even inhibit the growth of some cancer cells, including those that cause prostate cancer.
A chemotherapy patient needs to maintain a good diet to remain strong while the body fights off the cancer. Because chemotherapy can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, anything that helps reduce the inflammation will ultimately help the patient hold down food and remain healthy during the treatment.
Along with the anti-inflammatory benefits of medical marijuana, clinical studies have also repeatedly shown medical marijuana stimulates the appetite and reduces nausea, which can be critical for prostate cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Some studies have also found patients using medical marijuana suffer from less fatigue associated with radiation treatment, allowing the patient to live a more productive life while undergoing the treatment.
Finally, the relaxation benefits of medical marijuana have been shown to allow cancer patients to reduce stress levels, which, in turn, allows the body to better fight off the growth of the cancer cells.
Anandamide, a cannabinoid naturally created by our bodies, could work to kill and inhibit prostate cancer cells. Researchers investigated anandamide’s effect on isolated prostate cancer cells. To evaluate how much it impacted cancer cell levels and spread, they used a wide variety of evaluations, like staining and growth tests. The anandamide reduced receptors that communicate cell growth by activating the CB1 receptor. It also killed off a large number of cancer cells.
A review pointed out that cannabinoids could reduce some factors causing prostate cancer. Back in 1974, scientists found they lowered sperm production and testosterone levels in rats. In the early 1980s, researchers observed a decrease in substances like fructose and citric acid. The compounds examined in this study are all regulated by testosterone levels, and the results implied cannabis could reduce hormones that cause and exacerbate prostate cancer.
Another study examined the effects of non-THC cannabinoids on both isolated prostate cancer cells and prostate cancer cells in living beings. Researchers administered CBD and other compounds to test-tube cells and rats with tumours, and the cannabinoid worked incredibly well to kill the cells or reduce their spread. Also, an extract containing primarily CBD made some anticancer substances more effective.