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“Cannabis cure for brain cancer” headline is misleading

Category: Science blog May 5, 2011 Kat Arney 73 comments

Cannabis cannot cure cancer

Earlier this week the Daily Mail reported that a young US boy’s brain tumour had been “cured” after his father secretly gave him cannabis oil through his feeding tube.

The bold headline hides a more important truth: the boy was also receiving high-dose chemotherapy, and it is this – rather than the cannabis oil – that is likely to have treated his cancer.

We were saddened to hear that the child in this story lost his life to cancer in November 2012, aged just four. [Updated 25/07/14 KA]  

Despite the headline, the story points out that the cannabis oil may well have helped to relieve some of the symptoms of the cancer, and treatment side-effects such as pain, nausea and appetite loss. But this isn’t the impression that you get from reading the headline, which arguably implies that cannabis cured the boy’s disease.

We felt it was important to emphasise this distinction. The role of cannabis and its derivatives in treating cancer is the subject of persistent internet myth and rumour, and we’re concerned that this headline may unduly fan these flames.

Cannabis and cancer – the state of play

One strand of the online rumours about cannabis and cancer is that there is some form of conspiracy to prevent research progressing into this area. This is not the case. In fact, we’ve previously written about how cannabinoids – the biologically active chemicals in cannabis – can slow the growth of tumours in lab tests.

But the fact remains that this work is still at an early stage. On top of this, there’s no robust scientific evidence to show that cannabis or cannabis oil can successfully treat cancer. And it’s possible that smoking cannabis can increase the risk of lung cancer.

At the moment, cannabis is illegal in the UK, although the medical use of cannabis and cannabis-derived chemicals is being investigated and debated.

Cannabinoids do have the potential to be useful for cancer and other diseases, but this needs to be explored in rigorous and safe studies. And accurate headlines about cases such as this one would help too.

Kat

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