October is breast cancer awareness month. This tidbit of information may have already been readily apparent by the droves of people dressed in bright pink and neon green shirts racing for the cure down your streets a couple of weekends ago. The Susan G Komen foundation has organized this legion of charitable runners now for the past twenty years, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research. And yet, try as they might, more than 8 million people from around the globe continue to drop dead each year from this dreaded disease because, well, science has yet to discover an actual cure.
In some circles, it is not uncommon to hear conspiracy theory chatter suggesting that a cure for cancer was actually discovered many years ago. But this life-saving solution, plant or magic ball –whatever the holy grail of grandma killer cures is supposed to be – was ultimately shut down by the U.S government and is now being kept in a super, secret vault in the basement of the Pentagon.
To hear some people tell it, because the pharmaceutical companies, that’s why! The American healthcare industry is a $3 trillion market. Chemo treatments, cancer drugs, all of the innovative methods concocted to help increase a person’s chances for survival cost out the ears. But to cure cancer, well, that’s just bad for business. So “they,” Big Pharma, focus on selling expensive treatments rather than offering a cure.
Now that I got some of you thinking, “Is the government really sandbagging us on a cancer cure?” here’s something else to consider: Some of the same people who believe the government wants to keep Americans sick and on the verge of death are mostly convinced that the be-all-end-all remedy for cancer is cannabis.
There has been a lot of discussion about marijuana and cancer over the years, so much that it has inspired scientific minds to dig deeper into the subject. But the results have been a mixed bag of noise. Some say the herb shows promise, while others argue there is nothing to it but hype and wishful thinking.
Stories claiming “The U.S. Government’s Department of Health Finally Admits That Marijuana Kills Cancer” are definitely part of the confusion. Politicus USA published this misleader in 2015. It was a hot article when it first started making its rounds. It was so widely popular, in fact, that it, and other reports based on its general premise, still pop up from time to time on social media feeds.
And at first glance, it seems legit enough.
The story indicates that although the government has spent decades demonizing marijuana, maintaining that it has “no known medicinal value,” the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has quietly acknowledged on its website (Cancer.gov) that marijuana kills cancer.
However, it was later determined by the fact-checking website Snopes that the story was largely exaggerated.
“Because the article making the claim that the NCI “admitted” that “cannabis kills cancer”uses information from a document that has no legal bearing on federal drug policy, and because that information does not in any way “prove” that cannabis could be a viable treatment for cancer, we rank this claim as false.”
Around the same time, another story emerged entitled “Hollywood Stuntman Claims Cannabis Oil Cured His Stage 4 Cancer.” This one, in particular, asserted that an established Hollywood stuntman by the name of Mark Chavarria – who worked on hundreds of big-budget film and television productions from ‘Iron Man’ to ‘Sons of Anarchy’ – won his battle with the evil C-word through the use of cannabis oil.
In the article, Mark said, “It’s kind of gross, but I literally felt like I was pooping the [tumors] out every time I went to the restroom. What I believe happens with the oil is it makes like a shellac on the tumors, and it doesn’t let it grow; doesn’t let it breathe; doesn’t let it eat… nothing. I think it was slowly, but surely, peeling away at the tumors like an onion.”
And, just like that, he was cancer free.
Now, here’s the thing about the Chavarria story: It was not fake news. How do I know? Because I am the journalist who conducted the interview and had it published with High Times. I spent a great deal of time on the phone with Mark discussing this supposed miracle brought on through the use of cannabis, and by the time I submitted the article to my editor, I was convinced that marijuana could cure cancer.
After the piece was published, the madness began. I began receiving countless emails from the husbands and wives of cancer patients from all over the world, many of which were at the end of their rope, telling me that they had seen Mark’s story and were hoping for some guidance so that they, too, could be cancer free.
“I’m just a writer,” I would respond. “Mark is the man you need to talk to.” I later asked Mark for permission to send the messages his way. I mean, who better? Of course, he was just that good of a dude – a really down to earth, kind-hearted guy — so he was happy to help point folks in the right direction.
But cannabis did not cure Mark. Sadly, he died in 2017 — two years after we told the world that marijuana healed him of Stage-4 colorectal cancer.
Sometimes I’m riddled with guilt because I fear that, while it was unintentional, I may have given dozens of families false hope – convincing them that cannabis was the key to a long, cancer-free life. I still don’t feel right about that. Mark’s wife, Alyssa, later told me that the High Times story changed their lives. So, it wasn’t for nothing.
And who knows, maybe some of the others who contacted me during that time got lucky and made it out alive. But I never received any follow-up messages or details of their success, so I’m assuming the worst.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that marijuana cures cancer. Science tells us this.
“Claims that there is solid “proof” that cannabis or cannabinoids can cure cancer is highly misleading to patients and their families, and builds a false picture of the state of progress in this area, according to Cancer Research UK.
Sure, it is true that some studies have shown that cannabis can assist in killing certain types of cancer cells when used in conjunction with chemotherapy. But this research has a long way to go before it is substantiated.
On the other hand, cannabis has been used for decades to help ease the many symptoms associated with cancer. Science supports this, as well.
“Nausea and vomiting, appetite issues, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia — those sorts of things that are associated either with cancer or chemotherapy, those things are very well treated with cannabis,” Dr. Jordan Tishler told WBUR earlier this year in a “This Moment in Cancer” segment.
In addition, a study published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which consists of some of the country’s top scientific minds, provided a detailed analysis entitled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids,” showing definitive evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for pain, nausea, spasms and insomnia. But researchers found no proof that the herb could cure cancer.
Cannabis is a lot of things to a lot of people, but without more research, we cannot be certain it possesses the power to provide cancer patients with anything more than some relief from the worst of the symptoms.
Maybe one day that will change.