For decades, medical scientists and other researchers have known cannabis and cannabinoids are helpful in the treatment of cancer patients, but more recent studies suggest that the cannabinoids may also be effective in preventing cancer in susceptible patients.
For centuries, cannabis has been used as an herbal remedy. It contains powerful chemical compounds called cannabinoids that, when they react with the body, activate and improve a variety of physiological systems. Unfortunately, the US Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, lessening its availability to the masses for therapeutic relief. Researchers, however, are still interested in the potential of this powerful remedy and are working non-stop on studies to prove its usefulness.
One way they’ve found cannabis helpful is in the treatment of symptoms in cancer patients. It has been found helpful in treating nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, it helps in the treatment of neuropathic pain caused by damaged nerves, and it can help improve the appetite, allowing patients to keep themselves nourished and as healthy as possible for upcoming treatments .
Cannabinoids can be beneficial to almost every part of the body, but how do they do it? To understand that, we’ll need to talk about the endocannabinoid system and its function in the body.
The Endocannabinoid System
The ECS is responsible for maintaining a constant state of homeostasis in the body and is essential for a healthy body. The ECS provides an incredibly important function because all of our internal systems need to be in equilibrium to work effectively. When any sort of instability is registered, the ECS kicks in and rushes to the location of the issue to stabilize the condition.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids. The chemical compounds the body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis and are the key to how cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system.
- Cannabinoid receptors. Found on the surface of cells throughout the body, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes. Proteins that work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. Enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are so similar to naturally produced compounds in the body, it’s possible for compounds like THC or CBD to attach to the receptors just as endocannabinoids do. CBD, for instance, has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors and once it is attached it acts as a blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
What is Colon Cancer
Colon cancer will first begin in the colon or rectum and can also be known as rectal cancer if that is where it is first detected. The colon and rectum are included in the large intestine, which is an important part of the digestive system. In fact, the colon is almost 5 feet long and makes up most of the large intestine. There are sections of the colon which include the ascending, transverse, descending, and sigmoid. All of these need to work together in order to provide proper function and nutrition to the body.
Usually cancer in the colon is first detected in the form of polyps on the inner lining on the colon or rectum. While there are different types of polyps and not all become cancer, others do so it’s important to test and monitor them. The size of the polyp and number of total polyps are also an indication of whether or not they are cancerous or have a higher risk of becoming cancerous.
If the polyps are left untreated and cancer forms, it can quickly spread into the wall of the colon or rectum. The wall of the colon is made up of many different layers and while the cancer will originally spread to the only the innermost layer, it doesn’t take much time for it to spread to every layer, making it much more difficult to treat. After the cancer has infiltrated these layers, it has an even higher probability of then growing into blood vessels or nearby lymph vessels, which have the ability to transfer the cancer to lymph nodes and ultimately to every part of the body if undetected.
Cancer is known to move quietly and quickly, which is why frequent check-ups are so important, especially for those who are already at higher risk. But with a disease that has the ability to silently invade, how can cannabinoids help?
Cannabinoids For Colon Cancer
A recent study  on mice has concluded that injecting cannabinoids into the body may have the potential to prevent colon cancers. In order to test this, researchers injected mice with a carcinogen that is known to induce color cancer, however some of the mice were also given an injection of THC, a powerful and well known cannabinoid that comes from the marijuana plant.
The ECS and THC
Studies have shown that cannabinoids interact with the ECS in a variety of ways, many depending on which system it needs to target. Cannabinoids first interact with the ECS through the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptor is more specific to the brain and is what causes the intoxicated feeling many get from THC once it attaches itself to that receptor. The CB2 receptor focuses itself mainly on the immune system and its corresponding cells in the body. In short, activating the CB2 cell does not trigger a psychoactive response in the brain so a person won’t feel intoxicated when that receptor is used.
The research for cannabinoids and colon cancer found that THC was actually interacting with the system via the CB2 receptors, meaning that no psychoactive effects should be felt yet all the benefits of the cannabinoids will still be received in the body 
The mice who were injected with the THC actually lost a substantial amount of weight, however colon tumors were never detected. In fact, the mice injected with THC also had lower colon inflammation rates, due in part to the anti-inflammatory properties of THC. The study showed that THC not only prevented inflammation in the colon, it also inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells in the body, leading researchers to believe that colon inflammation and cancer are closely related. They concluded that patients at higher risk of developing colon cancer would benefit greatly from the addition of THC or CBD to their daily lives .
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Patients suffering from IBDs such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis already struggled with dangerous bowel inflammation in their gastrointestinal tract. These same patients are also at a much higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. These new research could not only help IBD patients deal with their chronic disease, but it could also hold the key to helping them manage it long-term while also protecting themselves from one of the worst possible side effects.
The rates of inflammatory bowel diseases are increasing worldwide which means the rate of colon and rectal cancers is also rising and will continue to rise. If cannabinoids are going to be important to the treatment and prevention of these diseases, it’s important work for the research teams to continue.
Just like all other research and studies focused around cannabis and cannabinoids, there is still a long way to go before scientists get all the answers they are looking for. However the current research suggesting how crucial cannabinoids could be to colon cancer prevention is a huge step forward in both cannabis research and cancer research. Finding any compound that has the potential to prevent cancer is incredibly important to millions of people around the world, and finding one that is natural and easy to use with little to no side effects has the potential to be life changing. More research is obviously required, but we are on a good path to opening up the possibilities of cannabis and its effect on our health and well-being.