In March 2011, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) made a public statement that read: “In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct anti-tumor effect.”
Great, right? Well, not really, because shortly after they published the article containing that statement, that webpage has been scrubbed of any reference to the direct anti-tumor effects of cannabis. Someone from the organization or the government apparently did not approve this and the statement was quickly removed. While the NCI does have a page that provides extensive information about the anti-tumor properties of cannabinoids, the statement implying doctors recommending cannabis for the direct treatment of cancer is no longer there.
In September 2014, the company called Insys announced they received broad orphan drug designation (ODD) for pharmaceutical cannabidiol (CBD) to treat glioma, which comprises approximately 8 % of all malignant brain tumors. Orphan drugs are intended to treat rare diseases affecting less than 200,000 people, and the government provides incentives to drug companies to encourage production of these drugs. The mere fact that the FDA approved the application of CBD as an orphan drug to treat glioma is arguably an admission that the cannabinoid could treat brain cancer.
Who is really fighting medical marijuana?
What we’ve learned so far is that marijuana, whether medical or recreational, is perceived as a fierce competitor, not just for big-pharma companies, but also for the alcohol and beer industries, which have lobbied for years to keep marijuana illegal because they fear the competition that legalized weed would bring.
The question that many of us would like answered is why does it take so long for our government to acknowledge cannabis as medicine? Is it the profit issue? Are they waiting for big pharmaceutical companies to come up with the (legal) framework that would allow them to stay competitive when cannabis comes into market as a legal drug? Everyone is aware of the disruption that the introduction of cannabis will cause for the market dominated by medical products that big pharma companies produce and sell. Whether you are young or old, man or woman, very healthy or quite sick, it is almost a certainty that you are going to use a prescription drug in the next year or two. Prescription drugs cost Americans far more than they do people living in many other parts of the world. This is because drug companies spend a fortune on direct-to-consumer sales and marketing.
Recently, the NIH stated that “Research funded by the NIH is actively investigating the possible therapeutic uses of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders.” This suggests that the research they are funding is investigating the direct effects of cannabinoids on cancer itself, not just the side effects of conventional treatments for the disease such as chemotherapy. Hopefully, within the next 5 to 10 years we will see the results of these endeavors and we must say that it seems very promising that organizations such as NIH are embracing cannabis-related cancer research. So far, 24 states have legalized cannabis for medical use with nine states pending legislation. U.S. federal law still criminalizes the drug, and its future remains uncertain until this issue is resolved. In Israel, however, the $40-million-per-year medical-marijuana industry is thriving, and the Israeli government is funding and supporting breakthrough research on the many healing potentials of the cannabis plant. This only tells us that it is possible to turn the wheel in other direction, all we need is the desire to do so, not from us, but from our government.