Cancer, also known as malignancy, is a disease characterized by abnormal cell divisions that can produce tumors and destroy body tissues. Over 100 types of cancer exist including breast, skin, lung, colon, prostate, and lymphoma, though cancer can target any region of the body. One of the hallmarks of cancer cells is their ability to spread to other parts of the body via a process called metastasis, when cancer cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. Different types of cancer grow and spread at varying rates and respond differently to treatment as a result. The most frequent tools used by doctors to counteract cancer are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, with patients often requiring two or more of these treatments in addition to palliative care. Some cancers produce malignant tumors while others, such as leukemia, affect blood cells and bone marrow, making them more difficult to target. The disease advances in stages from 1 to 4 that indicate how far the cancer cells have spread from their original source, with 4 being the most advanced stage.
Scientists cannot identify one specific cause in most cases of cancer, though excessive use of tobacco and alcohol, exposure to ionizing radiation or sunlight, certain infections (i.e. HPV, Hepatitis B and C), and environmental pollutants increase one’s likelihood of developing the disease. Doctors recommend maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercising regularly, vaccinating against infectious diseases, limiting consumption of red and processed meats, and being careful about sun exposure as ways to avoid cancer. Only 5-10% of cases are due to inherited genetics.
Symptoms of cancer differ widely as there is no one version of the disease, but a majority of patients, including 70-90% with late stage cancer, report experiencing pain. Those being treated with chemotherapy and radiation often suffer from nausea and vomiting as well. For this reason palliative care aimed at alleviating symptoms and side effects makes up the foundation of most oncological practice. People with cancer commonly take other medications to manage their pain, with opiates constituting the bedrock of palliative care, even though roughly 22% of users stop due to adverse side effects. Still more must go through an arduous process of trial and error to find a dosage that works for them. For these reasons, medical cannabis has long been a popular alternative, because it carries few, if any, serious side effects, while still providing symptom relief.
Though many people already use cannabis to alleviate their cancer symptoms, there’s a lack of published research to identify patterns of use, adverse effects, efficacy profiles and different characteristics of patients. Between 2015-2017, Dr. Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider carried out a study concerning the effects of cannabis in a large, unselected population of patients with cancer to solve this problem. Using several of Tikun Olam’s proprietary strains, including Midnight and Avidekel, scientists observed a pool of 2,970 cancer patients to gather data on cannabis’ ability to improve symptoms and quality of life. After six months, 95.9% of patients reported moderate to significant improvement in their symptoms, while an additional 69.5% experienced better quality of life. Before treatment, 52.9% of patients indicated levels of pain between 8-10 on a 10 point scale, with only 4.6% reporting similar levels after treatment. Additionally, 35.1% of patients were able to reduce their overall drug consumption by the end of the study.