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Cannabis sativa

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.


Find out more


Confused February 13, 2012

Well I dont know what to think about any of the debates and arguments going on here. I’m 25 and i’ve seen too many people die of cancer and known for western medicine fail too many times to trust it. Its not just a matter that i’ve known a few people with cancer, its that for almost every one of them its been a death sentence. Maybe i’m just unlucky.

This taken with the knowledge that for some cancers, getting secondary tumours caused BY the treatment is regarded as normal by the medical establishment gives me cause for fear.

Nothing about any of this adds up. The LD50 of pot is said to be something insane like ingesting twice your own body weight of active chemical, in one attempt!

Why is it illegal now when it used to be fine in Victorian times and before? Just what happened? Did Queen Vic eat too much sponge cake and it caused an international incident?

Admittedly legal pot and a nation full of idiots too wasted to work isnt exactly a great idea either, but taken actually objectively, especially in these times… the sad irony is, is that its easier to believe left wing pot loonies than it is to believe big business who continually profit and keep power by lying to the world. But then big business has brought us amazing inventions and institutions.

The only clear thing I get from thinking about it is that nothing is simple, easy and absolutely true for all people

Kat Arney February 10, 2012

Hi Glenn,

Just to clarify, there are two separate issues under discussion here.

The first is the use of cannabinoids to try to kill cancer cells or stop them growing – i.e. to treat cancer itself. Almost all effective cancer drugs are single molecules used in relatively high doses, either alone or in known combinations. Because of this, the research going on into the use of cannabinoids in treating cancer is focusing on specific cannabinoids, from either natural or synthetic sources. Some of this work looks promising. But we’ve said before, there’s no evidence that non-purified cannabis in any form can cure cancer.

The second issue is of the use of either cannabis or cannabinoids to relieve pain and/or symptoms in people with cancer or other chronic conditions. Herbal cannabis does have a known effect on pain, appetite and other functions. However, it is currently illegal in the UK and many other countries, and as a herbal product varies widely in quality and chemical composition.

As we understand it, Sativex is an extract of cannabis produced under controlled conditions to a consistent chemical composition and dosage of the cannabinoids THC and CBD, as well as several other cannabinoids present in the plant. It does not have exactly the same chemical composition as “street” cannabis and doesn’t produce the same “high” as the herbal drug, but has shown benefit for relieving certain symptoms, such as the muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. As we’ve mentioned, Sativex is currently being tested in a clinical trial to find out whether it can relieve pain for cancer patients.

To reiterate, cannabis is currently illegal in the UK. However, the potential benefits of cannabinoids are being actively researched both here and around the world. As we’ve made clear, it is not for us to debate the politics of cannabis legislation. Our concern is that safe and effective drugs in controlled and measurable doses – whether for treating cancer or relieving its side effects – are made available for patients. Based on the current evidence, herbal cannabis does not fit these criteria.

Science Information Manager

Glenn February 8, 2012

Hi Kat

Thank you for that but I was asking you specifically for a fair reason, namely that if Peters comment is accurate it kind of negates the logic of the arguments you’ve been making. So would you let me know if you agree or disagree with his comment please?

Thank you


Kat Arney February 8, 2012

Hi Glenn,
If you want to find out more about Sativex and cannabinoid medications, there’s lots of information in the FAQs on the GW website:

Science Information Manager

Glenn February 3, 2012

Having just read all of these comments, just wanted to thank Laura Davis for making such a rational, reasonable plea for a simple solution.

Glenn February 3, 2012

Hi Kat

Thank you for the responses.

In an earlier post by Peter Reynolds he said:

“Can we just be absolutely clear about Sativex. Please don’t fall into the propaganda trap. Sativex IS cannabis. It is a tincture produced by a CO2 extraction process and soaking in ethanol. It contains all 66+ cannabinoids present in the plant, not just THC and CBD. It is pharmacologically identical to the herbal cannabis grown illegally in people’s own homes or by government appoved growers in Holland, Israel and America.”

Is this a fact please Kat?


Michael Hobson February 3, 2012

Thank you Kat for that very quick and informative reply, it will be a good basis for me to try and understand things better, for some reason my family look to me to derive opinions and evaluations about issues that concern them despite that I am not a scientist, I am just an ordinary husband and a dad.

Kat Arney February 3, 2012

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comment.

One researcher we fund who is interested in cannabinoids is Professor Chris Paraskeva at the University of Bristol. There is a plain English summary of his research here:, a scientific summary here:
and information about some of his recent scientific publications here:

Professor Paraskeva is investigating a system within cells called COX-2/prostaglandin signalling, which is overactive in bowel cancer cells and helps to keep them alive. There is evidence that certain chemicals – including cannabinoids and drugs known as NSAIDs – can switch off this signalling and cause the cancer cells to die. He and his team are trying to find out if this approach could be useful for preventing or treating the disease.

The medical literature database, PubMed, lists hundreds of research papers from groups investigating cannabinoids and cancer – here is a link to a search using the terms “cannabinoid cancer”: The International Cannabinoid Research Society brings together scientists around the world who are researching all aspects of cannabinoids:

As an aside, you may be interested to know that there have also been hundreds of research papers published looking at coffee and cancer – as you rightly point out, it’s also a naturally-occurring plant packed with lots of biologically interesting molecules: . And just like cannabis, this research is often misinterpreted by the media to imply drinking coffee itself can protect against cancer – for example, see our blog post on this topic:

Best wishes,
Science Information Manager

Michael Hobson February 3, 2012

I think that the language and personal attacks made by a previous contributor was not only unnecessary but would reduce that validity of his argument in the minds of many readers. Considered and balanced argument I find much more compelling than a rant.

I would not want the responsibility of Kat’s job.

Kat did, however, mention Aspirin, which was know of in its basic willow form before 400 bc but was not made into an acceptable manufactured remedy until 1899, between those years many people must have had some relief from the chemical even in its contaminated form. It would seem that many remedies started from the roots of anecdotal evidence, and my view is that it would be most helpful if the anecdotal evidence claimed today by many people was tested scientifically in the exact form as has been claimed. It seems to me that the stigma of being ‘CANNABIS’ is what may be hampering this especially as far as the US and the FDA are concerned, and that anyone suggesting positive possibilities of cannabis would be publicly vilified and undermine any chance of election or re-election into government or public service. I suspect that if it was suggested that something like coffee, a similarly complicated compound applied topically could have beneficial effects, they would be researched immediately.

I was interested in the statement by Kat:

‘Our concern is that safe, effective treatments for cancer patients are researched and made available. Cannabinoids – both natural and synthetic – are being intensely investigated by many groups around the world (including researchers funded by Cancer Research UK), and we look forward to seeing the results of their work.’

I would be interested to know more about those groups and terms of research, especially those funded by Cancer Research UK

Kat Arney February 2, 2012

Hi everyone,

We’re happy to debate this issue but please avoid using offensive language and personal attacks, thanks.

As we’ve already said in our post and responses above, cannabinoids – the family name for a range of chemicals both derived from cannabis and other biological sources (including our own bodies) – are biologically interesting molecules that are currently being investigated by various researchers around the world for their potential in treating cancer.

At the moment, there is some evidence from lab research that purified and concentrated cannabinoids may cause cancer cells to die through a process called apoptosis. But this research hasn’t yet been translated into the clinic, and we don’t yet know if cannabinoid-derived chemicals can actually benefit patients. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many chemicals that show promise against cancer in the lab fail to deliver once they get to trials, which is why proper scientific research is so important. However, there is no solid evidence at the moment to show that cannabis itself (as a herb or as hemp oil) is effective as a treatment for cancer in humans.

Furthermore, as we’ve mentioned, there are significant issues around safety and dosage of using actual cannabis for treating cancer. As an example, white willow bark contains salicylic acid (a form of the active ingredient in aspirin), but the levels may vary widely between different pieces of bark, the acid itself is quite irritating to the stomach, and the dose of the active chemical is low compared to other contaminating molecules present in the plant. So we now use acetylsalicylic acid – a modified, purified version that is less irritating yet just as effective and can be given in accurate, controlled doses.

Or to take another example, doctors give cancer patients carefully controlled doses of morphine – a chemical purified from opium poppies – rather than just directly giving them the milky latex exuded by the poppies themselves, which is the source of morphine as well as more than 50 other biologically active and potentially harmful chemicals.

The research going on into purified and synthetic cannabinoids is just another iteration of this kind of process, which is aiming to produce safe, effective medications that can be given to patients in controlled doses and tested in clinical trials to make sure they actually work. It’s the same principle that has been used to make a number of important and life-saving cancer drugs, including Taxol (derived from yew leaves), vincristine and vinblastine (both derived from periwinkles), etoposide (from the May Apple) and colchicine (from crocuses), as well as drugs used in numerous other diseases.

As a separate issue, cannabinoids have other biological effects, such as pain relief and appetite stimulation, that are currently being investigated in the context of cancer and other diseases. For example, there are currently trials underway to investigate whether a drug called Sativex – produced from cannabis extract and licensed in the UK for multiple sclerosis – can reduce cancer pain A study published in 2006 compared whether cannabis extract, pure THC or a placebo could improve appetite and quality of life in cancer patients, but found no difference between the three treatments: Furthermore, nabilone – a man-made cannabinoid – can be extremely effective in reducing sickness in cancer patients:

It is not for us to comment on the politics of cannabis legislation. Our concern is that safe, effective treatments for cancer patients are researched and made available. Cannabinoids – both natural and synthetic – are being intensely investigated by many groups around the world (including researchers funded by Cancer Research UK), and we look forward to seeing the results of their work.

Kat Arney
Science Information Manager

Glenn February 2, 2012

can we have a response please Kat?

Tony Butler February 2, 2012

Let me get this straight, there is a reputed cannabis cure for cancer that has been known about for decades.
However, it is forbidden, by law, to be used even as a last resort even to save a life?

It seems to me that someone, somewhere is playing for the team of Big Pharm. you know, the politicians official poisoners, the vaccine, and drug up the kids lobby.
I have a friend who has cancer and has been told he has about eighteen months to live. Now, as he is dying what possible objection to him, and others like him, trying the cannabis cure could there be, unless its to protect the profits of the drug companies? They, as I understand it, have been working for years to produce a drug that mimics cannboids, in order to patent it for profit.
If that is not a conflict of interest, then what is?

Randy February 1, 2012

As I read your blog (Kat) I too like a couple of others here on this running blog noticed how contradicting your statements are. What kind of car do you drive? Are you making a good living looking for a synthetic cure for cancer to sell? I can answere the second question for you. Yes. You are so ignorant about marijuana! Such as “safe dosages” “Potential TOXIC cantamInants”. You come off as a TOOL. I don’t think you personally mean harm, but for heavens sake pull your head out of big pharmas ass and look around. All your business is concerned with is makeing a cure to sell. Your answere; of course we like to make a buck for finding the cure. Here in the U.S. it costs $100,000,000 to research new compounds or drugs for cancer treatment. What a bunch of crap. That is some expensive red tape. I think you should take up smoking marijuana so you can understand its toxic, scary psychoactive effects. The marijuana plant is the best thing we have for fuel, materials and medicine.

Randy February 1, 2012

If you watched the video about the kid that had medical Canibbus administered by his father, you would see in this mans face that Canibbus saved his child. It is common knowledge now that there are caniboide receptors in our brains and major organs. It is also common knowledge that caniboides kill cancer cells in test. It is also common knowledge chemotherapy procedures don’t work for every one and end up killing most.

Michael Hobson January 24, 2012

I have found myself reading this forum after my wife watched the ‘Run for the cure’ video.
I am just an ordinary person without a view one way or another but a video such as that I had to try to find out what truth, if any, there was in the assertions made. When people say that something has been proved in the black and white way that Rick Simpson claimed it makes me very suspicious unless there is clear supportive scientific evidence that a layman like myself may understand and have faith in. It did seem to smack of the Cheryl Crow issue when on US TV she announced that drinking water from a plastic bottle had given her breast cancer as if it were a proven fact.
It seems that the majority of posts are from people who have previously formed diametrically opposed views and therefore making a judgement between them is exceedingly difficult. I think that apart from the potential chance of the improvement in treating forms of cancer, that if Cancer Research was to effect and/or support such research it may bring the two sides together. I am quite prepared to accept the singleminded view that may prevail in the U.S., it reminds me of the issue against the use and banning of DDT, which, it has been argued was not in fact dangerous to the levels suggested, and could have saved the lives of many children in Africa who died from malaria (although the effect on other birds, plants, insects and other animals is another really complicated issue) I find the most compelling comments and posts have been made by Laura Davis, especially, I suppose because she has approached the subject like me from an intermediate position, although for more pressing reasons. Having said all that, if a member of my family was suffering from one of the dreadful diseases mentioned and I did not feel that the treatment being offered was being effective, the law could take a running jump and I would try any option that I thought had a chance of making a positive difference. In the 1960s and 1970s when my mother was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, I wonder how much of her pain and discomfort could have been eased if she had been able to use a cannabis product. I will try to pick my way through research as I find it, but I think that not just for me but the world at large, a clear cut comprehensible answer to the effectiveness of any treatment claims would be invaluable. I understand the principle of what Kat was saying about measureable and pure drugs being used but then if Sativex is as complicated as claimed that principle is somewhat undermined.

Sad January 4, 2012

Thanks Al. Very wise words indeed. Grandma died yesterday, luckily, she was so full of morphine that she didn’t feel anything, and for that I am grateful. I think you are right: politics and medicine are not natural companions. Wishing you all the very best. :(

Al January 2, 2012

I am sorry to hear that your grandmother is suffering with cancer & know of the frustration of seeing a loved one in pain but not being able to help them.
It is a illogical situation, your confusion is justified given modern & further advanced scientific findings, compared to the flawed scientific evidence and it´s assocciated fear mongering media campain that was the basis for it´s prohibition. We are lucky to still have the plant as it has long been on the un list for eradication. But know that it is publicly known to have anti cancerous effects, reportedly “the largest breakthrough to date” (regarding the spanish laboritories results) to cite but one of the many. Then what does it mean when research is restricted & hampered by law in face of such accumulating scientific evidence.
I t doesn´t appear to be a logical stance to maintain such outldated & discredited findings & assertions as a basis for the prohibition of something known to be potentially beneficial. The truth of the matter is politics & medicine have no natural association & one would do well to keep out of the way of the other less it wishes to hamper more.

Sad December 30, 2011

My grandmother is dying painfully and slowly from cancer – there is nothing more they can for her. She is old and has had a good life.

The debates on here are fascinating and one thing strikes me very powerfully as it seems a giant contradiction: Grandma is doed up to her eyeballs on morphine – fantastic as she is almost pain free, albeit very sleepy and gradually slipping into the otherworld, bless her.

Morphine is an opiate, derived from poppies? And highly addictive? I am not a clinician so cannot speak with any authority of such things, it just strikes me as odd that an addictive, powerfully narcotic, naturally derived (or is it synthesised?) substance is given as pain relief, yet they say that cannabis, which surely is less harmful than opiates, different rules apply?

Je suis tres confusant. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Cancer Research. Interesting stuff…

Al December 29, 2011

It is very interesting that cannabis has preventative qualities against cancer ie; of the test subjects that smoked cannabis were less likely to develop cancer than the control group that did not smoke at all. To quote the late great Bill Hicks “marijuana should be mandatory”, all joking aside if the chemical components of cannabis that have an preventatve effect against cancer could be isolated and composed in ratios that have the strongest preventative effect against cancer. It could be of greater importance than finding a cure for the disease. If it could then be produced at prices that could make it available to EVERY BODY in the country (in a non psycoactive form), who knows by how much it could cut the incedence rate of cancer & what savings could be gained through not having to treat the disease. unlocking money for other research & trials. That a cancer free world may come through prevention rather than a cure. Again if research is allowed!

Siobhan December 11, 2011

I read with great interest about the research in Spain wherein mice with brain cancer were injected with THC and cancer cells were killed without affecting surrounding healthy cells. How could the United States (my country) not jump on this? Why was this study not reported in the mainstream media? Oh yes..almost forgot..the government and it’s ties to the big pharmaceutical companies..their profits are way more important than other people’s’s disgusting.

sam November 8, 2011

its about time something was done to legalise cannabis there is plenty of documented evidence to prove cannabis oil cures cancer and i just dont understand why its ilegal people can find all the info on the internet it can no longer be hid from us exodus 30:23 good enough for jesus good enough for me

Martin Stone October 15, 2011

wow. just re read the article and comments again. I cannot believe you believe your own arguments KAT, on one hand you show it does indeed cure or help cure cancer but still debate it’s effectiveness and SAFE LEVELS of dosage, NO NONE has died from Cannabis EVER, you cannot OD, the effective dose is as much as you can take, all the artificial Cannabinoids that you are so adamant about being wonder drugs and are worth further studies are contained in a natural safe effective form in the plant, no need to extract, centrifuge, dilute, mix with some crap to make it injectable or spray able, etc etc… just eat it or vaporise it. for gods sake I have this debate with the Australian Cancer foundation and they repeat your words just about word for word, funny that eh

Anon October 3, 2011

they do make very good adverts tho.. so send in your money…..