by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
Allie Lysiak was like most other Southern California preteens. She enjoyed water parks, boy bands and playing with her friends. That was until September of last year when she was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma cancer. Allie went through a series of operations that removed three ribs and one of her vertebrae as well as a series of 37 proton radiation treatments but when her oncologist suggested additional chemo therapy, her mother Sheri choose a different option – cannabis.
“They wanted to do a year of chemotherapy. We originally said ‘of coarse we’ll do chemo, why would we not do that,'” Lysiak said. “After she started doing her proton I started seeing the effects of chemo on other kids – and not just the hair loss. A part of chemo therapy to get rid of a sarcoma cancer is leukemia – there’s secondary cancer, there’s blood problems, there’s heart problems, there’s neurological problems that are unfixable and so we decided to try the cannabis oil because I had been reading about how that kills tumor cells, especially aggressive cancer cells.”
Lysiak then took all the information she could find about cannabis oil treatment for cancer to Allie’s oncologist and to the doctor who performed the proton treatments. Surprisingly, both doctors agreed to the treatments and so Allie began taking cannabis oil daily which she got donated by a local medical marijuana clinic near their home in Temecula, Calif. Allie began her cannabis treatment in January of this year and the results are nothing short of amazing.
“[Both doctors] are really impressed how much her scars have healed and that now she is technically six months cancer-free.”
Cannabis and Cancer Research
In 2007, the very first research of marijuana’s anti-tumor capabilities was presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. That research showed how THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana responsible for the “high,” had the ability to activate biological pathways that halt cancer cell division or block development of blood vessels that feed tumors. Since then, researchers have discovered that another compound fount in marijuana called CBD (Cannabidiol) has even more powerful results in fighting cancer. Researchers at the the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco discovered that CBD actually stops the proliferation of breast cancer cells in the lab and in mice.
‘The preclinical trial data is very strong, and there’s no toxicity. There’s really a lot or research to move ahead with and to get people excited,’ said the study’s co-leader Dr. Sean McAllister in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. What McAllister and fellow researcher Dr. Pierre Desprez found is that certain forms of aggressive cancers feed off of a protein called ID-1. Their research showed that when cancer cells wer exposed to CBD, they stopped reacting to the ID-1 and in a lot of cases the cells returned to normal.
Desprez and McAllister point out that CBD could be used to treat other forms of cancer that are spread by the ID-1 protein such as brain cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and leukemia. Although the researchers say they are far from developing a miracle pill that can kill all cancers, there has already been some drug using THC for drugs such as ImClone System Inc.’s Erbitux and Amgen Inc.’s Vectibix.
For Allie, Lysiak, the non-toxic cannabis treatment is administered through an oil formula that is prepared by a family member. Her currant therapy is around a half a gram per day but will be reduced in a few moths to just a gram per week. “They say a gram or two a month is a good maintanance dose but because her cancer is so rare and aggressive, I want to be more aggressive,” said Lysiak.
Cannabis Fights Cancer… A Brief Admission by the Federal Government
These days, Desprez and McAllister are not alone in researching and promoting cannabis’ cancer-fighting properties. In early March, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) posted results that back Desprez and McAllister’s research citing a report that showed that cannabis slows and even stops tumor growth. Accordingly, the national press reported the story as the first time a federal agency acknowledged the legitimate medical use of marijuana for fighting cancer. Unfortunately, the NCI later took down the passages from its Website that supported cannabis’ anti-cancer properties and replaced it with a much more vague reference to marijuana’s ability to manage pain.
The original report was full of lines like this:
“In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis, not only for symptom management, but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.”
And was later replaced with this:
“Though no relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients who prescribe medicinal cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management.”
The Politics of Pot
Although disheartening for medical marijuana advocates and patients like young Allie Lysiak, the NCI’s back-peddling on the issue of cannabis’ anti-cancer properties isn’t very surprising, considering the federal government’s historically rigid stance on marijuana laws and the recent flip-flopping by the Obama administration on the topic of medical marijuana dispensaries. Soon after the NCI released the original report, patients rights and marijuana advocates jumped at the chance to show the federal government’s hypocrisy.
“The Federal government’s continuing attack on people prescribed medical cannabis by their doctors is hypocritical considering the benefits reported by its own National Cancer Institute,” said Patients Rights attorney Matthew Pappas in a statement released by the Advocates for the Disabled and Seriously Ill. “Cities that ban dispensaries are denying patients the ability to obtain a medicine the Federal government’s National Institutes of Health says fights cancer and they’re doing it with the Obama Administration’s help.”
Although 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting patients’ rights to use marijuana for treatments (and two have laws permitting comercial sale), the federal government has been steadfast in its opposition to clearing a path for medical legalization, despite an early 2009 pledge by President Obama to do just that. For patients like Lysiak, this has meant carrying the burden of proving the legitimacy of their medical use to jobs, government agencies, and in Allie’s case, school.
“[Allie’s doctor] gave her a prescription of Marinol, which I will not give her. So legally she has her state medical card and she has a prescription for Marinol from her oncologist and that’s what I gave a copy of to her school,” said Sheri Lysiak. “I’m sending her to school and she’s stoned and it’s kind of an awkward position to send your 11-year-old to school like that.”
For Lysiak, living in California (the state with the oldest medical marijuana law) has meant greater acceptance of her choice to treat Allie’s cancer with cannabis. Unfortunately for patients across the country, marijuana’s tainted reputation as a recreational drug has made its medical use hard for some people to accept. “If cannabis were discovered in an Amazon rainforest today, people would be clambering to make as much use as they could out of the potential benefits of the plant,” said Donald L. Abrams, MD, Chief of Hematology and Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University California. Dr. Abrams is widely known for his research on medical cannabis applications. “Unfortunately, it carries with it a long and not so long history of being a persecuted plant.”
In addition to people’s attitudes toward marijuana as “the hippie drug,” there are also some major financial incentives for the pharmaceutical-run health system to keep medical marijuana from gaining widespread acceptance and use. According to Livestrong, the cost of eight weeks of chemotherapy can range from $100 to $30,000. Treatment with inexpensive drugs like 5-FU or leucovorin costs around $300 dollars for eight weeks. However, to improve therapeutic effect, these drugs are often used in combination with newer drugs which can push up the cost of the dosing regimen to as much as $30,000.
Pharmaceutical companies have also spent billions of dollars on finding a cure for cancer – one that they can then sell for billions more. The greatest threat to the potential profit from cancer treatments is an herbal remedy that can be grown in your own garden for minimal cost and easily turned into an oil tincture that you can administer yourself. Considering the millions of dollars the pharmaceutical lobby spends bending the government’s ear to its whims, is there any doubt why the NCI backpeddled its findings on cannabis and cancer?
Cannabis Cures – A Growing Movement
In the meantime, people like the Lysiaks are learning about cannabis cures for cancer from places like Facebook and other internet sources – which can be important when using a new therapy that lacks the structured development by the medical community “The first time I gave [Allie] the oil it was too much,” Lysiak said. “It was a very small amount but I didn’t realize how concentrated this oil really was. She got queasy and threw up. I questioned every decision I ever made in my life . I couldn’t believe I was doing this, I felt horrible. So I talked with the mother of this girl in Oregon who is 7 who is using cannabis oil to treat her leukemia. She told me that the same thing happened to her and that you just have to build up a tolerance.”
Online information about cannabis oil treatments and testimonials by patients like Lysiak and the girl from Oregon are easily found with search engines. Websites by patients rights groups and medical marijuana advocates also have important information for patients looking for alternatives to chemotherapy. Published studies by researchers from schools like Harvard and the Pacific Medical Center are also easily available online.
Although word-of-mouth and internet research helped steer Allie Lysiak to cannabis treatments, hopefully there will come a day when the established medical community will finally acknowledge the growing evidence of marijuana’s cancer-fighting properties and the day will come when the scientists at the National Institute of Health and the NCI will finally be able to just state what many already know without redacting the truth – that cannabis has potential to be the cure for many types of cancer.