Like most cancers, Hodgkin’s disease is most commonly treated with chemotherapy and radiation. While this particular type of cancer is survivable, treatments can be very rough and leave most patients wishing for a gentler alternative. While the verdict is out on whether or not cannabis can cure cancer, there are ways it may help Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients. Here’s how:
What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease) is a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are critical for immune function. These cells target and kill harmful pathogens. Hodgkin’s lymphoma begins in cells that are responsible for creating antibodies to invading viruses and bacteria.
Antibodies are specific markers that cells use to remember and destroy pathogens. This cancer takes over the lymphatic system, which is the system that not only helps fight infections but deals with the flow of fluids in the body.
Lymph vessels are drainage systems that help clear out infection and remove harmful materials. As a cancer of the lymphatic system, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma can occur in just about any place in the body.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is similar to another type of cancer that affects killer T cells, which is often referred to as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While these two conditions are closely related, they both respond to treatment differently.
Does cannabis help Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Unfortunately, when it comes to cannabis research, much of the discussion has centered on the non-Hodgkin’s variety. Laboratory and clinical evidence on the effects of cannabis in Hodgkin’s lymphoma itself is lacking.
While cannabis compounds have successfully killed cancer cells in the laboratory, much of the research has centered around cancers like glioma, leukemia, breast, skin cancer, and a few others. This is important to keep in mind, as some types of cancers may respond better to cannabis treatments than others.
In general, cannabis compounds have been found to kill cancer cells in the laboratory via four primary mechanisms. Cannabis has been found to have antiproliferative properties, decreasing the growth of tumor cells. The herb has also been shown to decrease metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
In tumors, cannabis has conferred anti-angiogenic properties. Angiogenesis is the development of blood vessels. Without the ability to develop blood vessels, tumor cells essentially starve.
Perhaps most impressively, compounds in the plant tap into the cell’s own healing mechanisms to trigger cell death in cancer cells. Cancer cells are cells that have stopped responding to normal immune triggers that would destroy the diseased cells.
In the lab, cannabis compounds help cells self-destruct. This process is known as apoptosis, and it is more or less cell-suicide.
Research specific to Hodgkin’s disease theorizes that the condition may respond well to cannabis-like therapies. In 2013, a study published in the journal PLoS One found that Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells were covered in a certain kind of cell receptor called the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1).
As it turns out, the CB1 receptor is the primary binding location for THC. In the brain, it’s this receptor that allows us to feel the classic cannabis “high”. The presence of so many of these receptors in lymphoma cells indicates that cells are seeking some sort of chemical trigger.
Cannabis compounds are a non-toxic and natural trigger that should be further examined in this type of cancer.
Cannabis for the symptoms of Hodgkin’s Disease
While cannabis may or may not be able to fight cancer cells and tumors caused by Hodgkin’s Disease, the herb may be able to help Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients in a variety of other ways. Here are four reasons why cannabis can help ease symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and improve patients’ quality of life:
1. Pain management
Pain is one of the most common and difficult side effects of chemotherapy. In fact, some chemotherapy medications can even cause long-term neuropathy, which can decrease a patient’s quality of life after treatment.
In a 2016 review, Donald Abrams, an MD in hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital examined 28 studies looking at 2454 participants. Of the studies included, 12 examined neuropathic pain and 3 examined cancer pain specifically. Abrams found that, in general, cannabis compounds worked better than placebo to manage pain.
Surveys of medical cannabis patients have also found that many patients prefer the friendly green herb over prescription pharmaceutical pain medications, which can have serious side effects, including addiction.
2. Nausea and vomiting
The two major constituents in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are known antiemetics. An antiemetic is a substance that relieves vomiting. Apart from pain, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite can be debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.
Nausea and vomiting are two major reasons patients turn to medical cannabis. Studies dating back to the 1970s have found that cannabis compounds effectively reduce nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. In the decades since various reviews and preclinical research have backed up these early trials.
While more patients have access to medical cannabis than ever before, access to cannabis medicines may become even easier in the near future. In 2016, the world’s first clinical trial of cannabis as a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting began in Australia.
Should these trials be successful, they’ll likely bring even more legitimacy to cannabis therapies in cancer treatment.
3. Mental health
The cannabis plant has a special way of inspiring smiles and laughter. Rodent research has shown that in low doses, psychoactive THC may boost mood in a similar manner to anti-depressants. While the optimal dose differs from person to person, cannabis is famous for promoting feelings of positivity, bliss, and euphoria.
Additional studies have found that CBD has a positive influence on mood, and it is strikingly fast-acting. While some antidepressant medications can take several weeks to take effect, rodent research suggests that CBD can have a beneficial effect on mood after a single dose.
Specifically, the herb extends the time consumers spend in deep sleep, which is considered the restorative stage of sleep. Getting enough deep sleep is crucial for the health of the lymphatic system.
During sleep, the glymphatic system in the brain clears out toxins that accumulate during the day. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to decreased immune function, which is not a side effect that is beneficial to cancer patients in any possible way.