Weâ€™re sure youâ€™ve heard that cannabis oil has been linked to relief from muscle pain, MS symptoms, arthritis, stress, migraine headaches and even a cure for cancer. Marijuana is an emotive topic and itâ€™s only natural that enthusiastic claims will be made. What are the cold hard facts? We investigate….
What is Cannabis? And What is Cannabis oil?
Cannabis oil may also be known as hash oil or marijuana oil. Cannabis has been used for its therapeutic properties for thousands of years. In recent years, this natural oil has been dubbed a â€œmiracle oilâ€ with numerous claims stating that it can cure all kinds of cancer and health complaints.
Cannabis oil is made of two key components; cannabinoids (CBD) and THC (which is the psychoactive element that causes recreational users to get high). Cannabidiol (CBD) is believed to have numerous therapeutic benefits such as relieving convulsions, anxiety, inflammation and nausea. Pain and nausea control, improved sleep, appetite stimulation and reduced muscle spasm were also reported. It is thought that a 50/50 ratio of both of these components create the most effective cannabis oils. The CBD also moderates the psychoactive symptoms of THC, meaning that cannabis oil will not get you high.
A recent review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology listed these medical benefits of cannabis:
- Antiemetic â€“ reduces vomiting and nausea
- Anticonvulsant â€“ Suppresses seizure activity
- Antipsychotic â€“ Effective against psychotic disorders
- Anti-inflammatory â€“ Reduces inflammation in tissues
- Antioxidant â€“ Counters the damaging effects of oxidation and free radicals
- Anti-tumoral/anti-cancer â€“ Inhibits the growth of tumours and cancer cells
- Anxiolytic/antidepressant â€“ effective in the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders
A Cancer Cure: Does Cannabis oil cure cancer?
The biggest claim that surrounds cannabis oil or marijuana oil is that it may preventÂ the spread of cancer or inhibit the growth of malignant tumours. There is a pharmaceutical drug called Sativex (nabiximols) which is the first cannabis-based medicine to be licensed in the UK. Research shows it to be effective in treating the spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Extensive studies were carried out on this drug. It is derived from the cannabis plant and contains both THC and CBD. Scientists are currently looking into the effectiveness of using Sativex to treat cancer. In the US nabilone and dronabinol are two commercially available treatments for the side effects of cancer. They also contain cannabinoids. There are plenty of studies to prove that cannabinoids can actually inhibit tumour growth, so why is it not used for this purpose in hospitals and in conventional medicine?
At present, there is not enough evidence available to prove what effect cannabinoids have on cancer. Dr Wai Lui at St George’s University in London has conducted research that suggests that cannabinoids do in fact possess anti-cancer properties that can hinder the growth of malignant tumours. However, Dr Wai Lui himself is wary of leaping from this research to a conclusion about treating cancer in humans. He is recorded as saying “There is lots of evidence to suggest that cannabis might work with cancer patients, but as it stands there is still no firm proof on humans.” Dr Wai Lui is not alone in having reservations. Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK spoke about the success stories surrounding the medicinal use of cannabis oil â€œFollowing patients in this way is purely anecdotal and those who survived might have done anyway without taking cannabis oil. I am also worried that the potential benefits of cannabis in cancer treatment are often presented in a misleading and overhyped way. Furthermore, cannabis is both illegal and could interfere with other treatments you are having. Finally, most of the research that has been done to date is on cancer cells grown in the lab or on mice.”
Research shows the following positive effects of using cannabinoids in cancer cells:
- Triggering cell death
- Stopping cells from dividing
- Preventing new blood vessels from turning into tumours.
- Stopping cells from moving and invading neighbouring tissue (preventing the spread of cancer)
Although this evidence looks promising. It has only been demonstrated in vitro (not on a human body). The most effective results were shown using purified THC oil.
The results of a cancer trial
There has been one clinical trial on cancer patients, where nine individuals with an advanced, terminal brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme) had highly purified THC pumped directly into their brains. Eight of the patients showed a limited response to the treatment but the final person did not respond at all. All of the patients died in the following year, which is to be expected of patients with such a diagnosis.
How medical marijuana made the media
Although historically Cannabis has been associated with numerous health benefits, it is only in recent history that the movement has really taken off and this is largely due to the efforts of one man. Jeff Ditchfield created an organisation called Bud Buddies in 2002 with the sole intention of providing free cannabis to the ill and disabled. Ditchfield regularly lectures at the Royal College of GPs, speaking all about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Ditchfield initially operated out of a coffee shop in Rhyl, North Wales. However, he moved to Spain in 2005, claiming “Spain has a far more open-minded attitude to research in medical cannabis.” In Spain it is only illegal to supply cannabis if you make money from doing so.
What does cannabis oil cure?
The idea of a genuine cure is a pretty large and impressive one. Yet, typing that very question into any search engine will provide you will hundreds of stories about how cannabis oil cured people of serious illnesses, especially cancer. Here is such a cancer recovery storyÂ where a man fully recovered from mesothelioma, an incurable cancer after using cannabis oil. However, if you delve into the medical and scientific worlds then the claims are much more restrained and measured. The National Cancer Institute has recognised that cannabis can kill cancer cells in a laboratory setting. However, they also recommend that there is a lack of evidence meaning they cannot recommend that patients ingest or smoke cannabis as a treatment. The use of cannabis or cannabinoids have not yet been approved in the US by the FDA. This report is covered in more detail on snopes.
Cannabis oil is usually taken orally. On average people take 60ml over around 90 days. Starting with just one drop of the oil, three times a day. After a week, the dosage can be doubled. Then doubled again after 4 days. After a month people often build up to around a gram of oil a day (the equivalent of 1ml in an oral syringe). Some people like to take the oil in empty pill capsules or even even create their own cannabis oil suppositories by combining 1-2 grams of cannabis oil with 100g of melted cocoa butter. Suppository molds are available online for this purpose. It has been suggested that cannabis oil suppositories are especially good for bowel cancer and cancer of the prostate.
Make your own! How to make cannabis oil?
First off, not many people know how to safely make cannabis oil, and obtaining theÂ plant is illegal in many countries, meaning that this practice is not always safe and it is not advisable to attempt to make your own. Creating any medicine from home could be potentially dangerous and means that you are unlikely to be able to ensure the therapeutic properties of the end result. But if that hasnâ€™t deterred you and you are a budding Walter White, then hereâ€™s how you do it:
- To produce the full 60 grams/ml needed for treatment, 1 lb of high grade dried marijuana is needed, as well as 2 gallons of solvent.
- It can also be made using basic kitchen equipment such as a slow cooker and coffee filters.
- The solvent should be 99/100% Isopropyl alcohol or 190 proof grain alcohol. Exposure to the solvent can be exceedingly dangerous which is why anyone who makes this oil has to use a mask, gloves and eye protection.
- It is also advisable to use a fan to extract any vapours.
- Mush the dried cannabis and solvent to extract the THC and cannabinoids.
- Repeat this process
- Filter the mixture using paper filters.
- Boil away the solvent using a slow cooker or rice cooker.
- Remove the oil from the cooker and simmer over a low heat until any CO2 has evaporated.
- When the oil cools it will be dark brown in colour.
What are the differences between cannabis oil and hemp oil?
In many cases, the words hemp and cannabis are used interchangeably, although they are actually very different. They are both forms of the Cannabis Sativa plant. When this plant is bred for its potent glands (trichomes) which contain high amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) it is known as cannabis. When the plant only contains trace amounts of THC it is classified as hemp. Any cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC is legal to buy and sell. This hemp is used in clothing, construction, oils and topical ointments. Hemp seeds are used in food, industrial lubrication and many more products.
Cannabis oil is also sometimes referred to as hash oil, even though hash or hashish is actually the resin that is extracted from cannabis flowers and not the dried plant.
Hemp oil is made from the seeds of the hemp plant. The seeds are very nutritious and contain plenty of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega 3, omega 6, antioxidants and soluble fibre. Hemp oil is an excellent natural emollient as it is similar in composition to our skin’s natural lipids. It is a great way to hydrate your skin. The high omega 3 and 6 component also makes hemp oil a great choice for vegetarians who may find these fatty acids lacking from their diet. The gamma-linolenic acid is great for balancing hormones, which has been shown to be especially effective in menopausal women.
Hemp oil has numerous health and beauty benefits that have all been well reported and recognised. One thing that it doesn’t have is THC, which is of course found in abundance in cannabis oil and is linked to its therapeutic benefits.
Cannabis oil side effects
Side effects vary depending on the amount of CBD in the particular strain that isÂ being consumed. Cannabis oil with more CBD is thought to provide better pain relief and to be more effective at reducing muscle spasm.
Although some people find cannabis oil to be very relaxing in some cases it can cause a feeling of agitation and stress. Some people may feel over-stimulated, others may find they are very productive when taking it.
- The consumption of cannabis is associated with feelings of paranoia and anxiety. This is also true in some cases when people smoke it.
- Consuming cannabis in any form can significantly increase the heart rate, this can be a problem in individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions.
- Cannabis usage has also been linked to short term memory loss, cognitive difficulties and reduced concentration levels. These symptoms stop when the cannabis is no longer being used. Long term use of cannabis has also been linked to low sex drive, low sperm count and irregular menstrual periods.
- Cannabis oil is often used to help ease the side effects of cancer itself but the potential side effects that it causes may be unwelcome. The majority of these side effects are reported by those who smoke cannabis rather than ingest it as an oil. Those who believe in the potential health benefits of the marijuana plant tend to take the oil rather than smoking it, not only because the CBD stops them from getting high but also because there are fewer side effects associated with ingesting the oil than smoking marijuana.
- Cannabis oil is known to lower blood pressure and on the Rick Simpson oil guidelines it is stated that for patients who take medication to lower their blood pressure â€œit is very likely that you will no longer require its use.â€ It is also then advised that the patient check their blood pressure regularly and lower the medication accordingly. This decidedly non-medical approach to handling low blood pressure could be potentially very dangerous. It is also suggested under the Rick Simpson oil guidelines that those with diabetes may find they no longer need to use insulin. Again, this advice is potentially very dangerous and concerning.
- Cannabinoids can also react with other medications such as antihistamines and antidepressants. They can also affect how your body processes certain drugs, including chemotherapy. This could be potentially very dangerous for people going through cancer treatment.
Cannabis oil for pain
Cannabis oil is also used for pain relief, especially in arthritis sufferers. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD. Further research is being done into the analgesic properties of cannabis oil. There have been numerous studies into the use of medicinal marijuana of arthritis sufferers. The general conclusion is that cannabis oil does indeed help with this sort of pain but it is unclear as to whether this is because the oil numbs the pain receptors or if it actually eases the symptoms of the illness. This lack of evidence means it is difficult to know how to best use cannabis oil for pain relief.
What effects does long term cannabis use have on the brain?
Cannabis has been linked to lethargy and listlessness. A recent study showed that long term cannabis use could cause a lower IQ in later life. As we age we lose neurons in the hippocampus (the memory and emotion centre of the brain), exposure to THC has been proven to accelerate this. Studies in rats have shown that THC not only affects memory loss and cognitive development but can also increases the subject’s desire to try other â€œharderâ€ drugs. This theory has been explored in various ways and leads to marijuana being classed as a â€œgateway drug.â€ Although the THC in cannabis oil will not get you high, it is still present and this fact alone is rather worrying. The long term effects of cannabis use on the brain also include mental problems such as depression, anxiety and paranoia. Cannabis after-effects can also cause mood imbalances and lethargy, which is usually more acute the next day.
And Cannabis oil withdrawal…
Cannabis is mildly physically addictive. Coming off cannabis can cause insomnia and a lack of appetite. Psychologically the plant is even more addictive, whether used recreationally or medicinally. It is thought that this psychological addiction is even stronger when the oil is linked to pain relief.
It is also very hard to control the dosage of cannabis oil. The dosage needs to be built up slowly as the side effects can be very unwelcome in so many cases. However, waiting a couple of hours before administering another drop may feel like a slow and painful process if someone is looking for a quick relief.
Whilst killing cancer cells, THC also has a worrying negative effect. Studies show that it can harm crucial blood vessels. There has even been some evidence to suggest that in some cases the use of cannabinoids can actually encourage the growth of cancer cells. In some instances synthetic marijuana (or synthetic cannabinoids) is created to carry out studies and clinical trials but the results tend to be consistent with those using natural marijuana products.
Cannabinoids activate CB2 receptors (receptors that change the way the body and brain works once cannabinoids enter the system). There is evidence to suggest that activating the CB2 receptors can actually prevent the immune system from recognising and destroying cancer cells.
In some cases , the cancer cells may eventually grow resistant to cannabinoids and continue to grow regardless.
Before you buy: Hoax cannabis oil
It is illegal to grow, possess and buy cannabis in many places. As of July 2014, 23 states and the District of Columbia legally allow cannabis for personal medical use. Though the rules vary from state to state.
There are also a lot of people out there using the hype surrounding cannabis oil to scam people out of money. There have been a worrying number of reports of hoax sellers who provide desperate (and often terminally ill) people with olive oil instead of cannabis oil. There are plenty of listings for cannabis oil for sale on the internet, many of which are hoaxes. The illegal aspect and controversy surrounding cannabis means that it attracts criminals and snake oil salesmen as well as those who genuinely believe in its benefits. There is some safe, good-quality, therapeutic grade cannabis oil for sale but it is hard to come by.
Due to lack of research, we can conclude that there may well be a place for medical cannabis in the future. Dr Emma Smith from Cancer Research UK sums it up, â€œas it stands, we still need proper trials to know for sure whether it has any effect and if so, for what types of cancer, at what dose and in conjunction with what other treatments.”
The main concern is that if cannabis oil is as effective a treatment as it is believed to be, then will the fact that it has been used recreationally cause any problems?
Peter McCormick, a lecturer in Cell Biology at the School of Pharmacy at the University of East Anglia found that THC can prevent the growth of cancerous cells. He is worried that lack of research could mean that discoveries like his become unnoticed. “There are hundreds of reports out there and I do get concerned about them being written off as some anomaly or people trying to push recreational drugs into a legalised setting. The reality is that there are plenty of cases where cannabinoids do seem to be doing something and our study is further evidence that more research needs to be done.”
There is enough evidence to suggest that it is worth looking into cannabis oil and its potential benefits in greater depth. The most comprehensive review of all the research is available through The International Cannabinoid Research Society. However, until thorough studies have been conducted then the jury is still out on the medicinal properties of cannabis.
So does cannabis oil cure cancer?
It may well do, and the evidence certainly looks promising. However, more thorough and specific research needs to be carried out before we can claim this. The last thing that cancer sufferers need is a miracle cure that doesn’t help them. The use of illegal or previously recreational drugs to treat medical conditions is one that is gathering momentum. Recent reports show that psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms or shrooms) may be useful in treating depression. Further scientific research into these areas could change the face of medicinal science quite dramatically in the future.
The main issue with cannabis oil is that patients could neglect proven medical treatments in favour using marijuana oil, when there is still no conclusive evidence to support its use. This is especially dangerous in the case of terminal illnesses such as cancer. The illegal aspect of cannabis use also means that people are trying to manufacture their own oils, which may not always be safe and are experimenting with dosage without medical supervision. Some conspiracy theorists believe that pharmaceutical companies are trying to cover up the benefits of the use of cannabinoids on illnesses such as cancer. Hopefully, research will be carried out soon that will shed new light on this topic.