What if cannabis cured cancer – a review of the DVD

A couple of weeks ago this blog reported on a flurry of excitement in cannabis law reform circles caused by the issue of a DVD entitled “What if cannabis cured cancer?”. The press announcement from October 2010 sounded interesting, promising

the 60 minute documentary presents highly convincing evidence that this forbidden herb has healing properties beyond any other plant on the planet

So the order was placed and last week the DVD arrived, so does it match the hype? The answer is most certainly yes, but of course there are a few reservations.

The first thing to say is not meant as a criticism; this is a low budget independent production not made by a major production company and some of the production techniques show that. The programme relies a lot on snippets taken from programmes made by the BBC and other broadcasters, some of which have been described previously on this blog.

What is also patently true is this DVD is setting out to promote the medical benefits of cannabis, it is not an investigative documentary which looks at claims and counter claims. That said it does at least back its claims up with reference to actual research and facts which are well documented. It is in many respects the antithesis of the Daily Mail’s approach to cannabis reporting and is probably closer to the truth than the tabloid media would normally dare to tread.

Perhaps most importantly it doesn’t treat the viewer like a moron with the attention span of an ant, there no annoying “yoof” presentation, no stupid camera techniques, this is an intelligent presentation.

The DVD is divided into five sections: Introduction, The new frontier, The pioneers, The chemistry and The future

Introduction

It makes a refreshing change to watch a programme that doesn’t start by telling the viewer what they’re about to see as most trash documentaries these days seem to do especially on BBC 3. Instead this programme starts with a little speculation: We are reminded that cannabis is nothing new to human civilisation – marijuana may have been the first crop cultivated by people and may have been the inspiration for early cave art. Beyond this conjecture though what we do know is that cannabis is still inspiring new discoveries and a deeper understanding of health and disease. Then we get the programme proper with an outline of all the things cannabis can treat without the unwanted side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Interestingly we are told that the anointing oils used in biblical times contained cannabis oils – something reported on in today’s Guardian as it happens

“There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion,” Carl Ruck, professor of classical mythology at Boston University said.

We are reminded of the long tradition cannabis had as a medicine and in Victorian times was prescribed for a huge range of conditions including ( perhaps unwisely) to stop cranky babies form crying. Queen Victoria herself used cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps.

However the new century saw the emergence of the pharmaceutical industry which didn’t want the competition form the cannabis based remedies. These new “miracle drugs” were composed of unnatural toxic substances and many doctors preferred to stay with their traditional drugs. But following the reefer madness scares and lobbying from the pharmaceutical industries doctors were prohibited from prescribing cannabis and by 1942 cannabis was a forbidden medicine. At about the same time the massive prohibition industry, having failed with alcohol prohibition, turned its attention to marijuana eradication. Dr Abrams MD (professor of Clinical Medicine) is heard describing the efforts of Harry Anslinger’s campaign against cannabis. All this is well documented on UKCIA main site, especially  in the Pot Culture feature. However much certain prohibition supporters may sneer, the prohibition of cannabis did indeed come about through racist and industry lead campaigns, it is a regime built on very unsavoury foundations.

However, we are shown how things are changing now in the US with the medical marijuana laws being passed, since 1996 13 states have passed similar laws.

The programme now tells us the key claim that is behind this DVD:

Although cannabis smoke has been shown to have precancerous effects in animal tissue, countless studies have failed to find a link between cannabis smoking and cancer. In fact have shown that heavy marijuana users have considerably fewer cancers than the general population

Dr David Bearman, MD, is shown giving a lecture in what looks like a university somewhere describing the work of  UCLA’s Dr Donald Tashkin who famously studies a large number of actual cannabis users who found that the incidence of people with lung cancer in cannabis smokers was less than the incidence in people who smoked nothing at all (Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study- here). We then see Dr Taskin making the point that there seems to be no association between cannabis use and cancer.

The DVD then asks the most obvious and important question:

Is it possible that the tar in smoked in pot could be causing the malignancies while the chemical constituents in the pot are curing them at the same time?

But instead of developing that line t he DVD switches to the issue of whether or not cannabis causes schizophrenia and is pretty dismissive of claims that it does, we are told that adolescents showing pre schizophrenics signs find that smoking cannabis helps their thought disorder and so are self medicating, hence we have a lot of ill people using cannabis. The research the DVD  alludes to to but doesn’t name is probably that carried out by Keel University in 2007 (Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005).

This section seems out of place to me, why the issue of mental health was brought up at this point (or at all actually) isn’t clear, it would have been so much better to have developed the cancer and smoking argument, especially the relationship to tobacco use.

We then look at the nature of THC with the aid of a clip form some TV documentary  featuring Ester Fride, PhD fromt he college of Judea and Samatra who tells us THC was disvoered in 1964 and then we see the person who did that research, Rapheal Mechoulam from the University of Jerusalem describing ther nature of the chemical, but nothing was known about the mechanism of how cannabis actually works.

But rather than get into a discussion about brain chemistry we take a bit of a diversion into what the effects of cannabis actually are and that many of the claims of harm – such as brain damage – failed to stand up to scrutiny. All in all, we’re told, cannabis is very low risk with 5000 years of use and no evidence of any direct deaths caused by its use.

We then see a medical cannabis shop in the US selling a range of “cannabis enhanced” foods, which makes it easy to “over medicate”, but even so they are not toxic or lethal and the effects of an overdose will stop in a few hours. This is of course true, especially for adults, but may not be such a good thing for kids or people at risk of developing a mental illness. But the point is well made, cannabis is not fatal even at high doses.

The new frontier

We then return to cancer and the number of studies in recent years that show cannabis is an effective treatment for a range of cancers, including brain, breast, prostrate, lung and many others. Cannabis compounds do this

by promoting the death of cancer cells that have forgotten how to die, as well as a reduction in their crucial blood supply, whilst leaving healthy cells untouched

This is a huge and significant claim of course, and if true is wonderful news. Why does cannabis have any effect on cancers? The reason is due to “Endocannabinoids”, the bodies own cannabis like compounds. The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the body is described as

a form of cannabis already in our bodies

The ECS moderates a lot of functions in our bodies, typically

They protect our good cells while killing the bad ones, like cancer.

We are shown how nerves have evolved over many years and we are shown a clip from “The Evil Weed” documentary (reviewed here). the point is made that the chemicals in cannabis are a similar shape to the endocannabiniods and that it was inevitable that eventually cannabis would meet it’s perfect partner – us. This is, of course, totally down to chance and isn’t a part of some great plan as the DVD explains.

The discovery of THC lead to the understanding of how it binds with ECS receptors and creates the effects we see.  Blocking the ECS receptors seems to cause tumours in rats. We are then are told about a diet drug which did just that, “Cannabis “munchies” inspire diet drug” (here). The drug was called “Rimonabant” and although it worked, users suffered all sorts of negative side effects including an increased risk of suicide and was eventually removed from sale (BBC 2007). Worse, studies on mice given Rimonabant showed they developed cancers, which showed that Endocannabiniods are also tumour regulators.

Endocannabiniods help us eat, sleep, forget and protect.

Being able to forget is important otherwise we will “burst” with memory overload.

What is really interesting is that Endocannabiniods are found in increased numbers when tumours begin to develop. We are then told that once the Endocannabiniods did a good kob of protecting us, but then we got into the industrial age with pollution and chemical doctoring of food, the ECS couldn’t keep up with the task as we were overwhelmed with free radicals and carcinogens, including from pharmecutical drugs. The ECS needed help, enter cannabis.

Now what follows is an interesting argument which can easily be portrayed as “pro pot nonsense”, and may be an example of a logical argument taken too far.The argument is that taking cannabis adds tot he ECS and so gives us added protection against cancer, in other words using cannabis is a preventative measure.

Another clip from “The evil weed” shows where cannabis receptors are – which is everywhere in the body, especially in the brain.

The pioneers

We meet some of the researchers studying cannabis and its uses. Dr Jeffrey Herenrather MD, an addiction specialist outlines the huge range of cannabis compounds, many of which have significant anti tumour properties at low enough doses to be effective without killing the patient. Dr David Bearman MD,author of “Cannabis is medicine”  cites articles comparing the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and cannabis and why its thought cannabis has these anti cancer effects. Dr Robert Melamede is clearly enthusiatic

There’s nothing that im[pacts on so many of our illnesses. You see, when I talk about these age related illnesses we’re all ageing but we don’t all come down with cardiovasular disease, auto immune disease … we don’t all come down with cancer, but the chances are we’re all going to come down with one of them

Jeffrey Herenrather explains that cannabis kills cancer cells in a range of ways:

Antiprolifative  – prevents cells from reproducing;
Antiangiogenic – prevents formation of new blood vessels needed for tumour growth
Antimetostatic – prevents cancer from spreading to other organisms
Apoptotic – Induces the cell to seek its own death

Healthy cells are left untouched and this is particularly important with brain cancer. The evidence, we are told is piling up in labs that cannabis causes cancer to commit suicide. An interview with Dr Manuel Guzman of Madrid University is shown with him making the same claims

So if all this is true, why don’t people know about it? Why isn’t money being raised by cancer charities to fund cannabis research?

Paul Armentano of the American law reform group NORML is thrilled that more research is being done now, but alot of the research is being done outside of the US. Because cannabis is prohibited research has been discouraged by the drug war. Janet Reno from the Clinton administration is shown stating that despite the moves to allow medical cannabis the federal government will continue to apply the prohibition law.

So why is cannabis connected with violent gangs and all the other drug war stuff?

Perhaps, the DVD suggests, governments are nervous because cannabis makes

people feel the past and the future are less important than the present

and that doesn’t sit well with those who rule over us. A clip from CNN is shown of someone claiming marijuana “just leads to bad things” and from Fox news – “marijuana is not a medicine”. There is a lot of groundless opposition to medical cannabis from prohibition supporters.

Despite allthis opposition we are told the pharmaceutical companies are preparing for a revolution as we’re shown GW pharms SATIVEX production, with another clip form “The evil weed” and shown some US TV reports about medical cannabis developments.

The Chemistry

Next we’re told about the chemical composition of cannabis – 421 chemicals, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Cannabis has an amazing spectrum of chemicals which touch on the ECS system  that regulates us. Another clip form cannabis the evil weed explains that THC protects the plant against UV light. Again we are told that using cannabis is a good idea as a preventative medicine.

There are four main compounds of interest: THC, CBD,THVC, CBC.

The many medical effects of these compounds are described. The American DEA is slowly changing its rhetoric on cannabis, blaming the harm of cannabis on smoking. The wholeplant seems to be more effective

The future

We are told that the recreational plant has been developed to maximise the THC content, perhaps we should develop plants to contain more CBD and the other cannabinoids, this is an argument we’ve heard before of course.

So why isn’t medical cannabis legalised? Again we’re told about the destructive effects of prohibition and shown the way the American medical cannabis “cafes” work, change is coming and it can’t come fast enough. But again we’re shown the federal view – change is to be rejected apparently. The US government knew about the anti cancer properties of cannabis since 1974, but the US government shut the research down and buried the results. But slowly, ever so slowly, things are moving forward.

Change is coming, at least in America.

This DVD is perhaps a little too enthusiastic in some of the claims it makes for the preventative use of cannabis, but it’s a well researched production which anyonbe interested int he debate is encouraged to watch. It certainly makes a change from the rabid prohibition supporting trash we get so much of in the mainstream media.

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You can buy a copy of “What if cannabis cured cancer” from Amazon for $19.90 – see here

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About UKCIA

UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

13 comments on “What if cannabis cured cancer – a review of the DVD

  1. Len Richmond

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the review – it’s the longest the film’s ever had! Although I obviously don’t agree with all your criticisms, they are fair and intelligent. You are a thoughtful, cautious man and I am a sixties radical who wants to save the world now! But I do believe that even the most out-there claims in my film will prove to be true. Since making the doc I keep hearing from people who say they have cured their cancers with cannabis – especially skin cancers. Their numbers are growing. I think it’s the medical establishment who are making outrageous claims when they tell patients that chemotherapy, radiation and surgery is their only hope – when in fact patients are destroying their immune systems with these toxic, over-priced, snake oils treatments. Am I going too far again (and I’m not even high right now.) I hope to win you over to my side – we want you. -Warm regards, Len

  2. Sam

    I wouldn’t go so far as to start placing blame on the medical establishment – I have many relatives whose lives have been saved by chemo, and I’m intensely grateful for it.

    What is needed is sound research into the matter. Long studies coupling cannabis treatments with chemotherapy would be a good start.

  3. phrtao

    As I have said before on this and other sites – cannabis may not be a cure for cancer (once it has got a hold or metastasised) but I am quite sure it may be a prevention. In much the same way as aspirin prevents blood clots in those with heart disease. Still a very worthwhile effect! If it raised your chances of getting cancer by a couple of percentage points we would ban it – so if it lowers your chances by a similar margin why not recommend it ?

    Those of a medical inclination may find this interesting:

    http://blog.norml.org/2011/02/11/what-do-you-know-the-drug-czar-is-lying-again/

    The burden of proof is a heavy one 8-(

  4. Dragon83uk

    I think I’d have to agree with peskypete’s appeal for a copy of this to be sent to our PM, although I doubt he’d watch it.
    This was a pretty good critique of the film, I’ve got one gripe with it though. That being the whole schizophrenia thing. Personally I felt that this issue would not of been well suited to this film and as such wouldn’t warrant much more than a mention. Afterall the issue is such a large one it almost deserves a full film to itself (Maybe that could be your next project Len?). Whilst it was really enjoyable to watch and the info seems to be just what we need, unfortunately (and as I’ve said elsewhere) things like this need to see a lot more publicity and peer review before we can jump on it as being fact. Hopefully, now the cats out it will find a home. Special thanks to Len for opening the bag

  5. UKCIA Post author

    @ Dragon83uk

    >>
    I’ve got one gripe with it though. That being the whole schizophrenia thing.
    >>

    Yeah, to me it just seems out of place – the prog is about cannabis and cancer. Like I said in the review the prog had just asked a really interesting question – can smoking cause cancer while the compounds in cannabis prevent it? – This point should have been developed and the whole “safer use” issue looked at. Of course, being an American film the tobacco connection probably didn’t occur to them because they don’t smoke tobacco filled joints over there.

    It’s a small gripe and doesn’t detract too much from the points the film makes, but it would be better if it weren’t there I think. As you say the whole mental health issue deserves a prog of its own.

    As for sending a copy to anyone in government, it would just be a waste of a good DVD. They know the truth about cannabis already, the reason politicians have for keeping it illegal has nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with lining their own pockets and those of the police/military/industrial complex.

  6. tokerdesigner

    “…promoting the death of cancer cells that have forgotten how to die…”

    Very interesting especially since prohibitators make such a point of warning cannabis will harm your “short term” (i.e. bureaucratic) memory– maybe long term memory is morte important in the long term?

    “…the point is made that the chemicals in cannabis are a similar shape to the endocannabiniods and that it was inevitable that eventually cannabis would meet its perfect partner – us. This is, of course, totally down to chance and isn’t a part of some great plan as the DVD explains.”

    Please, Len and everyone, sign in on Wikiversity and contribute your thoughts and/or corrections to “Ethnobotany” which contains a hypothetical history of how this partnership may have arisen (a tale of seeds landing on dungpiles…).

  7. JOHNB

    Could some one tell me a few reasons why cannabis cant cure cancer??

    I wonder what west bank palestinians endo cannabinoid system levels are looking at the statistics they have a very low form of cancer rate. Could it be that their bodys have to produce more endo cannabinoids relating to a stressful enviroment that they reside. Phyto cannabinoids is not the miracle! It`s enhancing the endo cannabinoid system with phyto cannabinoids thats the miracle!! That is very significant.

    Endorphins is our bodys natural morphene so why do we need external opiates?

    The same reason we need cannabis our natural systems are low and need enhancing.

  8. sharky

    i know its a long shot but i emailed channel 4 asking if they could show this documentary. heres the response.
    Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries.I am glad that you are enjoying our recent documentaries. A lot of time and effort goes into making our programmes and your positive feedback is greatly appreciated. I will pass the information about the documentary on to the team who choose our shows.Thank you again for taking the time to contact us here at Channel 4 and for your interest in our programming.

  9. Monsoon Eddy

    Published studies finding CANNABIS protects against Brain, Breast and Lung cancer cells (amazing considering the difficulty in getting permission to conduct such studies):

    In 1972, Dr. Tod H. Mikuriya published his research on the cancer fighting properties of Marijuana and launched the modern movement for medical marijuana. Dr. Mikuriya endorses THC for medical purposes. His method of applying hemp oil from a hot air vaporizer avoids ALL the irritating, toxic byproducts of smoking. The respiratory hazards of marijuana and tobacco smoke are due to toxic byproducts of combustion, not the active ingredients in the plant, known as cannabinoids.

    Jan 25, 2010: A new study out of Thailand finds THC (marijuana) can fight cholangiocarcinoma – cancer of the bile duct. This is a rare but deadly form of cancer, with only 30 percent of patients still alive after five years, according to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. Thai researchers conclude, “THC is potentially used to retard cholangiocarcinoma cell growth and metastasis.”

    MONDAY, Jan. 11, 2010 (HealthDay News) Marijuana Compounds Could Beat Back Brain Cancer killing tumor cells: The California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute found that cannabis may stop breast cancer from spreading through the body, providing a nontoxic, natural alternative to chemotherapy. Researchers also found that a combination of compounds in marijuana (CBD) could help fight off a particularly deadly form of brain cancer.

    Dr. Manuel Guzman’s research team at Madrid’s Complutense University discovered in animal studies THC can selectively induce cell death in brain cancer tumors, while healthy cells remain unharmed. This was reported in the journal Nature Medicine in 2000.

    At the University of Milan in Naples, Italy, researchers reported in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics that other cannabinoids (usually destroyed by smoking) in addition to THC inhibited the growth of brain cancer cells, selectively killing malignant cells through apoptosis (cellular suicide).

    Dr. Robert Ramer and Dr. Burkhard Hinz of the University of Rostock in Germany, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Advance Access December 2007 that medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for cancer.

    The American College of Physicians (ACP) recently endorsed non-smoked THC in an effort to reverse the USA Federal Government’s stance on medical cannabis. The Philadelphia based ACP is the second largest physician’s association in the USA.

    Anju Preet, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Experimental Medicine, has determined cannabinoids/THC affect several biological functions positively, and can lead to “… a new road to therapy against lung cancer.”

    (May 26, 2006) — People who smoke marijuana–even heavy, long-term marijuana users–do not appear to be at increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to a study to be presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference on May 23rd.

    April 2009: Marijuana and the Brain Cancer Connection: WebMD claims that marijuana contains a chemical that causes the death of cells associated with brain cancer. Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the marijuana’s THC was actually dissolved into saline and then directly introduced into the brain tumors of two patients. Upon prolonged administration of the THC into the brain tumors, researchers found that the number of live cancer cells dropped.

    Alcohol and Cigarettes are responsible for half a million deaths in the US each year. Vaporized Marijuana should be championed as a healthy alternative to drinking and smoking. The healthcare savings alone would be in the tens of billions.

  10. Diavolino

    Being able to forget is important otherwise we will “burst” with memory overload.

    W T F ?

    Seriously? Put down the bong, learn to spell (or at least proofread and join the real world.

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