Can medical marijuana help in treating glioma?
A: There has been an increase of glioma patients who are considering cannabis as a treatment modality. Finding — and trusting — information about using cannabis to treat glioma can be challenging, especially for a condition as unsettling as a brain tumor.
Glioma is a category of brain and spinal cord tumors that occur in glial cells (glial cells are brain cells that support nerve cells). Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive and fast-growing brain tumor. These tumors tend to appear in older adults and can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. GBM is very difficult to treat and most GBM patients have a poor prognosis—fewer than five percent of GBM patients survive five years past initial diagnosis. Novel treatments are urgently needed to improve quality of life and survival rates of the patients suffering from GBM.
Accumulating evidence indicates that cannabinoids have potent anti-tumor characteristics and might be used successfully in the treatment of GBM. For example, a study completed in Spain in 2006 with nine terminally ill glioma patients suggested that THC reduced tumor cell proliferation and was well tolerated.
Research in animal models suggests that cannabinoids produce anti-tumor effects in GBM by reducing blood vessel formations in tumors and by reducing the spread of and the replication of cancerous cells. New research suggests that treatment efficacy might be enhanced by combining cannabinoids with traditional chemotherapeutic agents.
In fact, the outcome of preclinical models prompted GW Pharmaceuticals to study combinations of Sativex with TMZ (TMZ is an oral chemotherapy drug) in a placebo-controlled clinical trial in 21 GBM patients (Sativex is an oromucosal spray with a 1:1 THC:CBD mixture). The group that was treated with Sativex and TMZ had an 83 per cent one-year survival rate. The control group received TMZ only and had a 53 per cent one-year survival rate.
Of course, you should always get your medical advice from a healthcare professional (HCP), especially if you have a condition as serious as a glioma. A competent HCP will provide a comprehensive intake meeting to review your condition and assess your prescription medications to identify potential contraindications with cannabis. HCPs can help you learn to properly administer medicines, use new devices, and can discuss the benefits and side effects of any products. And, ensure that you work with a HCP that provides ongoing support to help you navigate the complexities of cannabis treatment, local laws, and access issues.
More Q&As from our experts
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