Chapter 7: Cannabis and Cancer - The Debate of the Decade (Vijaya Charita with Vikramm Mitra)

The topic we chose today has been the talk of the town in the recent past; the association of cannabis with cancer. The narrative from our cannabis expert Vikram Mitra is all the more fascinating as he has personally dealt with cancer patients himself. Over and above that, he has not only been an International medical cannabis consultant for Vireo Health Inc., but is also the MD and co-founder of Delta Botanicals and Research Pvt Ltd.!

Me: “Hi Vikram! Glad to see you in another interesting conversation pertaining to this divine plant. Well, you may be a tad bit more inclined towards today’s conversation with your experience in this field! So, shall we proceed?”

Vikram: Sure! Yes, I have spent almost a decade in this field. Moreover, with my company Delta Botanicals, we have been giving Medical Cannabis R&D consultation and advisory services to clients, apart from raising seed capital for running the first of a kind Human Clinical Trials of whole plant extract Phytocannabinoid medicine and subsequent launch of Approved medications. I’m ready!”

Me: “Sweet! So, let’s start with how do you relate cancer and cannabis in your experience?”

Vikram: “I would actually like to start with how the usage of painkillers and opioids is so harmful for the system, especially while treating cancer pain. Basically, the side effects of using opioids is quite deadly because they bind with the opioid receptors in the brain stem and, in turn, start malfunctioning. Hence, people suffer from breathing problems, kidney issues, and also other heart complications. However, with cannabis one can never overdose or come across any side effects as there are no cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem area that can negatively affect the system whilst treating cancer. This is what makes all the difference when we use this plant for treating lethal genetic diseases like cancer. Yet, it is still just a tete-a-tete.”

“If we look into the ministry of AYUSH (Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha & Homeopathy), unfortunately, proper studies have still not been conducted pertaining to cannabis and cancer. Honestly speaking, this is my deepest sorrow because in Ayurveda there are so many things that the plant kingdom can offer and we have a treasure trough of information regarding the herbs that are gifted to us by nature. Despite this fact, there is not much research done pertaining to cannabis and cancer in Ayurveda. But thankfully, modern science has a lot to offer in these areas post the 1960’s! Perhaps it was not understood properly or it did not exist in those times. For instance, 4000 years ago, Agastya rishi did happen to mention how to create a battery using a copper and a zinc plate, saw dust, and earthen pots in the earlier days along with using a liquid that he described as “Sheekhigreeva” which translated to the “neck of a peacock”. Ofcourse, people earlier used riddles and code words to preserve knowledge in those times. Thus, in fact, this was an actual reference to the color of the neck of a peacock which was similar to copper sulphate! So, these kinds of perspectives were required to comprehend the information in the vedic period. This is also very similar to the sanjeevani booti that is mentioned in Ramayana to be bioluminescent by nature, which in turn, helped Hanuman to find the herb to cure Laxman.”

Me: “Now this is pretty appalling! In this way, it leads to the question as to what can be known about the relationship between cannabis and cancer?”

Vikram: “You see, with cannabis and cancer, we have a plethora of evidence to show that anecdotally people have benefitted from using this sacred herb for treating cancer with optimistic results. There are also people who use Rick Simpson’s oil as well! Along with this anecdotal evidence, there came a very big body of corroboration when the National Institute of Drug Abuse was getting funded by the National Institute of Health and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to understand the potential harm of using cannabis. Surprisingly, they concluded numerous times that there were no negative effects of using this plant. Although, the only time they caught sight of any negative repercussions was when they tried it on monkeys, which we all know was a faulty experiment itself. (Referring to the experiment where monkeys were given a constant inflow of cannabis smoke, eventually concluding that the plant killed brain cells. Later on, the experiment was falsified stating that it was the lack of oxygen that killed the brain cells and not the cannabis smoke).

Apparently, there was a person deployed by the National Institute of Health to see the harmful effects of cannabis, but to everyone’s surprise, there was no negative impact at all. Besides, there were no signs that showed that the plant was potentially dangerous like alcohol and nicotine! Well, as far as cancer is concerned, it’s a disease where the body cells start going rogue and multiply rapidly at a rate, which is not sustainable at all, thus creating a complete metabolic catastrophe and killing the body. In other words, we do not know the reason behind the occurrence of cancer, however, all we know is that it can be through certain genetic predispositions. But, nobody knows for sure as to why it happens!”

“To add further, there was a significant rise in cancer patients in the 1970’s. People were dying and the doctors did not know of any cure as such. There was some subjective and circumstantial evidence to show that cannabis did help in treating cancer, however, the issue was that the plant was under schedule 1, which almost made research on it impossible. Nobody was able to conduct proper studies! Basically, there was a shift of the mindset with time and doctors started researching the association of cannabis and cancer. The medical fraternity and the European community started looking into this and soon enough, the USA followed the same. They multiplied and cultured cancer cells with the likes of prostate cancer cells, GBM cells, breast cancer cells, etc. and started adding tinctures of this plant without identifying the components like THC and CBD. Compellingly, they observed that by adding very little amount of this plant to these lab cultures, the cells stopped multiplying, which was a mind boggling conclusion. When they increased the quantity of cannabis, they further saw cancer cells die. The reason? They didn’t know how it was entirely attesting the growth! No sooner than later, they found out about this process called Apoptosis, a program that leads to the self-destruction of a cell once they have served the purpose in the body. What cannabis did was cutting the supply of oxygen to only the cancerous cells, eventually killing them in the process! It did not affect the healthy cells at all! Interesting, right? It’s almost like a targeted drug delivery system. They observed that the cannabinoids in this plant helped to cut this supply of oxygen to these cells. Over and above this, the binding of cannabis with the receptors in our body functioned in such a way that it programmed the plant to only kill the cancerous cells and leave aside the healthy ones that did not play a role in the formation of cancer. Apart from this, they also discerned that the process of consuming cannabis and it’s form (like smoking, ingesting) also played a vital role in fighting cancer. For instance, while treating cancer patients, smoking cannabis helped a lot during the post-chemo cancer therapy protocol. Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are complications that people face after undergoing chemotherapy. However, they saw that people who had smoked this plant were not only relieved from all these issues, but it also assisted them in treating chronic neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage post chemo. They also saw a significant change in their appetite, minimising the damage and helping them to recover quickly. Mentally as well, it was a sigh of relief for the patients as it not only treated the burden emotionally with the effect of THC, but also provided a cure to the pain that most cancer patients suffer from with it’s neuroprotective nature.

“Whereas people who ingested the cannabis plant or the oil, it was working differently as it passed through the liver. So, generally if one smokes the plant the body releases 11 Hydroxy THC, but when it is ingested, the body produces 13 Hydroxy THC, which is more potent and has a more lasting effect as well. Well, it does not stop here because later on, we found that different strains help in treating different cancerous cells. As an example, one strain that positively impacts prostate cancer cells may not work at all for spinal cord cancer. This only goes to say that a lot more research needs to be done and explored in this field. So, what can be the real reason behind this? It is this that earlier we thought that there were only two cannabinoids (THC and CBD), but with time we discovered more than 144 different cannabinoids along with flavonoids and terpenoids, and it changed the whole game altogether. Now, research says that plants with more THC, CBD, and CBG helps in treating prostate and breast cancer but not brain cancer. Similarly, plants with a high concentration of THC and CBGN worked wonders in the case of brain cancer! This is where research on the human clinical model should take place to find out more about it! Till now, studies were only done on THC and CBD, however, countries like Israel have considered other varieties of cannabinoids in treating different diseases too!

Me: “This is so entrancing and fascinating! So, this also leads me to this another crucial question: Your opinion on cannabis being removed from schedule one! How do you see the future in this?”

Vikram: “Ofcourse, it is a great step! Although, it does not stop here. A lot may be required to reach a massive step. You see, it does give more voice and accreditation to people who are trying to work on this and take it a step further, however, human clinical trials are very essential in such studies. Different varieties of cannabis treat different varieties of diseases. Hence, it is very pivotal to conduct more and more research and reach possible conclusions in treating cancer and other deadly diseases. The basic research till now proves that cannabis kills cancer cells via Apoptosis, it does not harm the healthy cells, and not all cannabis strains work the same way on different types of cancer. And, to know more data, research is inevitable! I have spent a lot many years in touch with cancer patients that consumed cannabis. It did work for them in certain ways, but only with more studies can we come to more bodies of conclusions and treat the patient and the disease in the best possible manner!