Cannabis for cancer

How medicinal cannabis can support patients with tumor diseases

The diagnosis of cancer is always a stroke of fate for those who suffer from it, and with it begins a race against time. The time at which the malignant tumor is detected is also decisive for the course of the often fatal disease. If the cancer has not yet spread too far, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery offer a chance of cure. Chemotherapy not only destroys the malignant tissue, but also affects the healthy parts of the body. Medical cannabis can make the difficult time of chemotherapy easier for patients because it can reduce the unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. Cannabis can also provide palliative care relief for patients whose cancer can no longer be stopped. Canify Clinics wants to support you on your journey and give you the chance to regain your quality of life with the help of cannabis.

Criteria for prescribing medical cannabis for cancer

The Cannabis “as Medicine Act1” makes it possible for our doctors to prescribe cannabis as medicine on a narcotic prescription under certain conditions.

These conditions include the presence of a serious illness that is classified as therapy-resistant, for which no standard therapy is available or for which the side effects of standard therapy are unacceptable. In addition, according to a doctor's assessment, there must be a chance that the symptoms will improve with medical cannabis.

If you have any questions, please contact us so that we can discuss your therapy together.

Cancer diagnosis: What does it mean?

The diagnosis of cancer means one thing at first: chaos. Fear and uncertainty spread among patients and their families. Above all, it is important to seek treatment from competent doctors and to weigh up the prerequisites and options together in order to find the best treatment for the patient. This can be both an individual therapy plan and palliative care.

We are happy to explain what cancer means for your body:

Cancer is a pathological change in the naturally existing cells of the body, which doctors call carcinoma. Healthy cells in the body grow, develop and divide without any problems, and death is also regulated. In cancers, this structure is missing, the cells divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. The malignant tumor cells penetrate deeper and deeper into the neighboring tissue, i.e. neighboring organs and lymph cells, multiply and destroy their surroundings.

The result of the spread is often metastases. Metastases are daughter tumors, i. e. malignant tumors, which form as a result of the spread of the tumor cells to another location in the body.

Malignant tumors can affect any part of the body. Statistically, malignant ulcers form most frequently in the breast in people with female reproductive organs and in the prostate in people with male reproductive organs. In second place are cancer diseases of the intestine and lung cancer2.

Diagnosis

Cancer is often diagnosed through screening, but in other cases it is found incidentally during a medical examination. Some patients contact their doctor because of symptoms that indicate a tumor. Such cancer symptoms can be, for example, lumps in the breast, frequent vomiting, neurological changes or breathing difficulties. However, tumor diseases are often asymptomatic for a long time, so it takes a while before the symptoms can be clearly identified. Therefore, competent doctors are needed who take their patients' complaints seriously and check them carefully.

If a malignant tissue change is suspected, imaging procedures such as ultrasound, X-ray, computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are suitable for obtaining initial indications, depending on the part of the body affected. To confirm the diagnosis, the next step is for the doctor to take a tissue sample. This can be done on many organs without surgical intervention. With an endoscope, body cavities and hollow organs (e. g. intestines, stomach, bladder or lungs) can be examined under visual control and a tissue sample taken. In places that are more difficult to reach, the tissue sample (biopsy) is taken in a different way. Either the doctors puncture the organ through the skin with a needle or remove the tissue during an operation. To determine whether the tumor is benign or malignant, the sample is analyzed in the laboratory.

The different stages and their significance

In order to better assess and monitor the status of the disease and its progression, oncologists divide cancers into different stages. There are different scales that can be used to classify the disease. The most widely used classification scale is the system of the International Union Against Cancer3 (Union Internationale contre le Cancer, or UICC). Cancer is divided into the following stages 0-4.

UICC cancer stage 0 = early form of cancer

  1. 1Size / involvement – Tumor has not yet grown in connective tissue
  2. 2Formation of lymph nodes – No lymph node involvement
  3. 3Formation of metastases – No metastases

UICC cancer stage 1

  1. 1Size / involvement – Small / medium tumor size, growing within organ boundaries
  2. 2Formation of lymph nodes – No lymph node involvement
  3. 3Formation of metastases – No metastases

UICC cancer stage 2

  1. 1Size / involvement – Medium to large tumor size, growing within the organ borders
  2. 2Formation of lymph nodes – No lymph node involvement
  3. 3Formation of metastases – No metastases

UICC cancer stage 3

  1. 1Size / involvement – Tumors of any size, ; spreading from localized to surrounding tissue
  2. 2Formation of lymph nodes – Nearby lymph nodes are affected with cancer cells
  3. 3Formation of metastases – No metastases

UICC cancer stage 4

  1. 1Size / involvement – Tumor size small to large; spread from localized to surrounding tissue
  2. 2Formation of lymph nodes – Lymph nodes are affected with cancer cells
  3. 3Formation of metastases – Distant metastases present

Another classification tool is the TNM scale4. TNM stands for tumor, node and metastasis. The following aspects are assessed:

  • Size and spread of the primary tumor → T
  • Are there local or neighboring lymph node metastases? → N
  • Are distant metastases present? → M

Behind the letters are numbers that reveal details about the tumor.

The so-called grading indicates how aggressively the tumor is progressing, i.e. how dangerous it is classified as. The scale divides the malignancy into 4 levels (G1 to G4)5.

Is cancer curable?

With regard to the chances of curing cancer, both the stage at the time of diagnosis and the type and aggressiveness of the cancer cells play an important role. Cancerous tumors detected early can, in the best case, be surgically removed and require no or only few further therapies.

If the cancer is more advanced, treatment is even more difficult. Patients then have to weigh up with their oncology doctors whether they want to opt for drug-based cancer therapy or palliative care.

Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery

In addition to the surgical removal of the tumor or metastases, chemotherapy and/or radiation are usually the means of choice to treat the cancer. The order in which the therapy takes place is determined individually by the treating oncologists. In some cases, it makes sense to first reduce the size of the tumor with the help of medication or radiation before the affected tissue is removed during an operation. In other cases, the opposite option may be more promising - the aim is then to destroy any remaining cancer cells with subsequent chemotherapy. What does chemotherapy6 or radiation7 mean? A brief overview:

  • Chemotherapy: During chemotherapy, or chemo for short, patients receive one or more drugs at certain intervals (cycles) to fight the cancer. Patients receive the chemo drugs on one or more days. This is followed by a break during which the patients are supposed to recover. There are usually four to six such treatment cycles. The drugs are called cytostatics and are administered as tablets or infusions through a so-called port catheter.

    The cytostatic drugs work by interfering with the division cycle of the cancer cells and thus destroying them. The drug does not differentiate between malignant cells and normal tissue, but the effect on the cancer cells is more noticeable because the cells divide faster and are therefore more susceptible to the chemotherapy. Side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, hair loss and severe pain.

  • Radiation: Radiation therapy is a locally acting treatment – so it only destroys cells in the irradiated area. The effect of the ionizing or particle radiation damages the genetic material of the cells, cell division stops and the cells die. As a result, the malignant tumor becomes smaller or disappears completely.

    Radiation therapy also damages healthy body cells. In most cases, however, the cells' own repair systems can repair the damage. The ability is more pronounced in healthy cells than in malignant cells, so the healthy cells regenerate while the cancer cells die and are eliminated by the immune cells. To enable this process, radiotherapy is also given in several intervals. The sessions here are called fractions.

    There are different forms of radiotherapy: radiotherapy from the inside and radiotherapy from the outside. Not every form of radiotherapy is suitable for all types of cancer, so the oncologist makes the decision about the most suitable therapy. In external radiation therapy, the patients lie on a couch under a radiation device. The use of the most modern technology makes it possible to precisely irradiate the affected organ. Radiation from the inside is also called brachytherapy, in which the radiation source is placed directly on the tumor. This allows the tumor to be irradiated with a relatively high dose while sparing the surrounding tissue as much as possible.

What is the significance of cannabis for cancer?

The suffering of cancer patients is often so severe that the effect of conservative medicines reaches its limits or they would have to be administered in such high doses that the side effects become a new problem. Medical cannabis can be a supportive treatment in some of these cases with far fewer unwanted side effects. Some of the side effects of cannabis are even quite desirable:

Serious illnesses often lead to depression. In a study on cannabis as a medication against nausea and vomiting during drug therapy for cancer8 , the researchers stated that the mood-lifting effect of cannabis was a thoroughly desirable side effect.

While the treatment with cannabis is still often viewed skeptically for other diseases, society and politics are more open to medical cannabis for cancer and palliative care patients.

Cannabis for nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy

Since the chemotherapy that works throughout the body also disrupts cell division in healthy tissue, cancer patients suffer immensely from the side effects of the cytostatic drugs.

The appetite-stimulating effect of cannabis can help patients to alleviate nausea and vomiting. In the above-mentioned study, cannabis therapy was even significantly more effective in alleviating patients' symptoms than conventional medication8.

Cannabis as a painkiller

Cancer patients often suffer from severe chronic pain due to their disease. Conventional painkillers are not sufficient to alleviate the symptoms of those affected and opiates are often the only effective remedy. However, taking these drugs often has side effects that patients find very unpleasant. Several studies9 indicate that cannabinoids can be effective for severe chronic pain, especially nerve pain (neuropathic pain). In comparison, the adverse effects of cannabis (for example, dry mouth or drowsiness) seem to be better tolerated.

Cannabis in palliative care

Cancer is not always curable and therefore palliative care is an important component in the management of cancer patients. Palliative care treatments should make the remaining time as comfortable as possible for patients. The focus is no longer on recovery, but on quality of life. Here, optimal pain management is essential, as is the alleviation of nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, depression and neurological conditions such as cramps. Recent research10 has demonstrated the benefits of cannabis in the palliative care of tumor patients in several studies.

How can Canify Clinics help?

Canify Clinics aims to support cancer patients on their path to medical cannabis. Canify Clinics is committed to removing as many barriers as possible. In an upsetting time, we want to spare you the stress of additional appointments with doctors and have therefore opted for the concept of telemedicine.

After you have registered with Canify Clinics free of charge and without obligation and submitted your documents, our experts will check your records. If the course of your disease allows treatment with medicinal cannabis, you can make an appointment with one of our cooperating doctors. The first appointment takes place on site, all further appointments can be made conveniently via video call from home. We want you to be able to concentrate on your life and support you on your way. During the consultation with our experts, your state of health will be examined in detail. As soon as our doctors determine that you would benefit from a therapy with cannabinoids (mainly tetrahydrocannabinol/THC and cannabidiol/CBD), you can obtain cannabis on prescription at the pharmacy.

FAQ

What does cannabis do for cancer?

Cannabinoids such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) can relieve the symptoms of cancer as well as the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Patients often suffer from nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, severe pain and depression. Treatment with cannabis can alleviate many of the side effects of therapy and help people focus on their recovery. The state of cancer research on a possible anti-cancer effect of cannabis is not yet mature enough to name cannabis as a remedy against malignant tumor diseases.

Disclaimer and legal information

This article is for information purposes only and does not replace medical advice from a doctor. The content is not intended to motivate self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor to induce independent changes in medical treatment. Canify Clinics does not make any recommendations or promote any diagnostic methods or treatments. If you wish to change your treatment, this should always be discussed with a doctor. Furthermore, Canify Clinics cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness and balance of the content. Therefore, neither the authors of the texts nor Canify Clinics accept any liability for damages resulting from the independent use of the information described here.

References

1. Gesetz ‘Cannabis als Medizin’ in Kraft getreten - Bundesgesundheitsministerium. https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/ministerium/meldungen/2017/maerz/cannabis-als-medizin-inkrafttreten.html.

2. Krebs - Bundesgesundheitsministerium. https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/gesundheitsgefahren/krebs.html.

3. Klassifikation von Tumoren » Alles über Tumore » Krebs » Krankheiten » Internisten im Netz ». https://www.internisten-im-netz.de/krankheiten/krebs/alles-ueber-tumore/klassifikation-von-tumoren/.

4. Klassifikation von Tumoren | DKG. https://www.krebsgesellschaft.de/onko-internetportal/basis-informationen-krebs/basis-informationen-krebs-allgemeine-informationen/klassifikation-von-tumoren-tnm-.html.

5. Prinzipien der Pathologie in der Onkologie - Kompendium Internistische Onkologie - eMedpedia. https://www.springermedizin.de/emedpedia/kompendium-internistische-onkologie/prinzipien-der-pathologie-in-der-onkologie?epediaDoi=10.1007%2F978-3-662-46764-0_146.

6. Die Chemotherapie | DKG. https://www.krebsgesellschaft.de/onko-internetportal/basis-informationen-krebs/therapieformen/chemotherapie.html.

7. Die Strahlentherapie bei Krebs | DKG. https://www.krebsgesellschaft.de/onko-internetportal/basis-informationen-krebs/therapieformen/strahlentherapie-bei-krebs.html.

8. Tramèr, M. R. et al. Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review. BMJ 323, 16 (2001).

9. Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version - NCI. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq.

10. Doppen, M. et al. Cannabis in Palliative Care: A Systematic Review of Current Evidence. J Pain Symptom Manage (2022).