THC and Prostate Cancer: The Potential of Cannabis in Prostate Cancer Treatment
While fully treatable, prostate cancer is an example of a common condition without ideal preventive and proactive treatment options. More than 90% of prostate cancer cases are detected early, but it’s best to avoid developing the condition altogether. Out of the several treatment options available, chemotherapy or surgery would ideally take a backseat to more-natural and less-invasive therapies.
With several studies highlighting the potential usefulness of cannabis for prostate cancer, an increasing number of men are turning to cannabinoid products to support their treatment needs. Given what we now know about the potential ability of THC, CBD, and other cannabis compounds to alleviate prostate cancer symptoms, impede tumor progression, and inhibit invasiveness, this recent upswing in popularity is understandable.
Since 25-40% of all US cancer patients already currently use cannabis as an adjunctive treatment, it’s important to take a look at both the utility and safety of cannabis in this context. Here we’ll explore existing THC and prostate cancer research, uncovering promising insights that could reshape our understanding of prostate cancer treatment possibilities.
How Does Cannabis Help Prostate Cancer Patients?
THC and other cannabinoids (as well as terpenes) can influence prostate cancer cells in various ways. While more research is needed, several THC and prostate cancer studies strongly support cannabis use as a treatment for the disease. The therapeutic potential of cannabis for prostate cancer can be better understood by examining how cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a complex neuromodulatory system responsible for regulating physiological functions as varied as memory, sleep, reproductive health, immunity, inflammation, and pain. It’s comprised of two naturally occurring endocannabinoids in the body (anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol), two receptors (CB1 and CB2), and two enzymes (fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglyceride lipase).
Research suggests that the ECS may hold promise for cancer treatment, and several studies highlight that activation of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors can suppress tumor growth. This means the influence of THC and other cannabinoids on cannabinoid receptors could potentially impact cancer cells. While more research is needed, THC and other cannabinoids have emerged as notable anticancer cannabis compounds.
6 Ways Cannabis Might Support Prostate Cancer Treatment
There are several ways cannabis works as a potential treatment for prostate cancer. Not only is there research to support previous cannabis use plays a significant role in reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer and renal cell carcinoma, but there are also a handful of studies that highlight its promise as a viable treatment option.
1.) THC Could Cause Cancer Cell Death
When it comes to THC and prostate cancer, one of the most noteworthy potential benefits is that it may interfere with the growth and spread of cancer cells. A 2023 review of six animal-based prostate cancer studies, for example, discovered that cannabinoids significantly decreased tumor size. Research shows that cannabinoids reduce tumor growth in animal models by modulating key signaling pathways that control cancer cell survival.
One of the first studies highlighting the potential of cannabinoids in cancer cell death was published in 1975. It found that delta-9 THC decreased tumor growth after 10 consecutive days of dose-dependent treatment, while delta-8 THC and CBN reduced tumor size after 20 consecutive days of treatment. In a promising 1999 study, a direct connection was discovered between THC and prostate cancer specifically, showing that THC caused prostate cancer cell apoptosis (cell death).
2.) Cannabinoids Show Potential as Anti-Tumor Agents
In a 2022 study, researchers discovered that treatment with cannabinoids impairs the activation and reactivity of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Because CAFs play a critical role in prostate tumor initiation, researchers of the study strongly support the use of cannabinoids as anti-tumor agents in prostate cancer.
3.) Cannabinoid Receptors Play a Role in Prostate Cancer
The role of cannabinoid receptors and prostate cancer has also been examined, showing higher levels of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in patients with prostate cancer. Ultimately, this means that prostate cancer cells could be highly attracted to cannabinoids compared to other cells.
A study published in the American Association for Cancer Research Journal suggests that targeting cannabinoid receptors with CB1 and CB2 agonists contains potential in the treatment of prostate cancer. THC is a partial agonist at both CB1 and CB2 receptors, with an especially high binding affinity to CB1 receptors.
4.) Cannabinoids May Block What Feeds Cancer Cells
A cancerous tumor needs nutrients and oxygen from blood to grow. The body forms new blood vessels in a process known as angiogenesis, which can ultimately accelerate diseases like cancer.
Angiogenesis inhibitors, often referred to as anti-angiogenics, block blood vessel growth and are commonly prescribed as a part of cancer treatment. One study found cannabinoids inhibit angiogenesis in certain types of cancer cells. While these findings are promising, it's important to keep in mind that research is still in its early stages, and more research is needed to understand the full extent of THC's impact on angiogenesis.
5.) CBD Could Slow Cancer Cell Growth
THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that shows promise when it comes to cannabis-based medicine for prostate cancer. Preclinical studies have found that CBD may slow the division of cancer cells.
Cannabinoid prostate cancer research shows CBD displays antiproliferative and anti-invasive properties in prostate cancer cells. This means CBD may counter tumor invasion and decrease the number of cancer cells attacking the prostate.
6.) Terpenes Could Stop the Spread of Prostate Cancer Cells
Cannabis terpenes, primarily responsible for the aroma and flavor of cannabis, may also offer therapeutic potential in the treatment of prostate cancer. Terpenes and cannabinoids work together synergistically, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
Limonene, one of the most common cannabis terpenes, has been found to increase the anti-proliferation of human prostate cancer cells. Caryophyllene, a common terpene found in most cannabis strains, demonstrates an ability to reduce proliferation and inflammation in prostate cells of animal models.
Caryophyllene is also the only terpene that has been demonstrated to act as a cannabinoid by binding affinity to the CB2 receptor. Caryophyllene oxide, a result of the oxidation of caryophyllene, is shown to induce apoptosis of prostate cancer cells.
Dr. Goldstein’s Analysis: THC & Prostate Cancer
For further analysis of the ability of THC to treat prostate cancer, we turn to Dr. Bonni Goldstein’s seminal tome, “Cannabis Is Medicine.” Dr. Goldstein begins her analysis of the utility of both THC and CBD for prostate cancer on p.188 by noting that a wide body of research exists supporting the idea that THC might “cause cancer cells to commit suicide.”
On P.188, Dr. Goldstein goes on to confirm that THC appears to “inhibit tumor growth, inhibit metastasis and cancer cell migration, and inhibit angiogenesis[.]” Additionally, Dr. Goldstein notes that “phytocannabinoids can work synergistically with certain chemotherapies and radiation” to offer enhanced effects. In regards to prostate cancer specifically, Dr. Goldstein cites a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2013, which demonstrates how cannabinoids other than THC may also be able to slow prostate cancer growth.
The Bottom Line: Could Cannabis Help with Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is the second most-prevalent cancer in American men, underlining the urgent need for effective treatments. While successful treatments exist, the landscape is evolving, and cannabis holds promising potential.
Using THC for prostate cancer has become a focal point of research. Ultimately, the way THC interacts with ECS receptors appears to be the most important factor, potentially impeding prostate tumor growth and inducing apoptosis in prostate cancer cells.
Cannabis compounds other than THC, including CBD and the terpenes limonene and β-caryophyllene, also exhibit anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory properties. Full-spectrum, strain-specific cannabis extracts that contain all these beneficial compounds are the most beneficial when considering the potential of cannabis for prostate cancer treatment.
While the results that have been published so far are encouraging, it's imperative to acknowledge that THC prostate cancer research remains at an early stage. The potential synergy between cannabis compounds and conventional treatments opens new approaches, offering hope for enhanced prostate cancer treatment and highlighting the importance of continued research in this promising field.
It’s vital for patients and their healthcare providers to maintain open communication regarding the potential usefulness of THC for prostate cancer. Doing so allows clear understanding between both parties, ensuring that patients remain informed about potential benefits and risks and that healthcare providers respect the legitimacy of cannabis as a possible prostate cancer treatment option.