Why then is there such a gulf between public perception and scientific evidence? Part of this is misunderstanding. For example, an often aired claim is that high-dose THC kills cancer cells in a petri dish. This is true, but not very meaningful.
Killing cells in a dish is extremely easy; you can do so with anything from heat to bleach. But effective anti-cancer agents must be able to selectively kill cancer cells in the human body while sparing healthy ones. The reality is that cannabis simply cannot do this.
Given that around half of us will be affected by cancer in our lifetime, a cure would be not only be hugely profitable, even though the patent laws for “natural” products are complicated, it would also garner its discoverer infinite gratitude, financial rewards and scientific honours. The idea that researchers would be callous enough to suppress a cancer cure, and the rewards that would go with it, is ludicrous.
Astounding testimonials about cannabis and its derived products shrinking tumours or curing terminal cases are easy to find on the internet. But alluring as these stories are, they tend to be based on misunderstanding, wishful thinking or outright falsehood.
The term “natural” is somewhat vague. If we define natural to mean that which occurs without human intervention, the argument still doesn’t hold. Arsenic, plutonium and cyanide are also natural, yet it would be a poor strategy to binge on these substances. The active compounds of many drugs are themselves discovered in plants, synthesised to control the dose and maximise efficacy. We already have THC-derived medicines, but these do not cure cancer, and neither does cannabis.
Sadly, some cannabis advocates go further, claiming that cannabis’s cancer-curing abilities are covered up by drug companies. This is abject nonsense. Such a conspiracy would be massive and would rapidly collapse.
But, crucially, there is zero evidence that cannabis has any curative or even helpful impact on cancer, despite enthusiastic claims to the contrary.
Other cannabis advocates are driven by ideological fixation, most often expressed in a sentiment that cannabis is “natural” and implicitly better than pharmacological drugs. But this is a classic example of an “appeal to nature” argument, and thus rather dubious.
RSO is not a branded product. That means there’s no one “Rick Simpson Oil” for sale. On his website, Simpson explains how to make his namesake oil. But he does not sell a version of the oil for profit.
Current Oncology: “Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care.”
What Is Rick Simpson Oil?
Clinical pharmacology and therapeutics: “Cannabis in Cancer Care.”
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), an oil made from the flowers of the cannabis (marijuana) plant, gets attention online from people who claim it treats cancer. There’s no solid evidence for it. But some early research suggests that some chemicals in marijuana have future potential as a cancer treatment.
Leafly.com: “Who is Rick Simpson and what is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)?”
We compared search activity over time for cannabis and cancer versus standard cancer therapies using Google Trends’ relative search volume (RSV) tool and determined the impact of cannabis legalization. We classified news on social media about cannabis use in cancer as false, accurate, or irrelevant. We evaluated the cannabis-related social media activities of cancer organizations.
While false news has a tendency to propagate quickly, widely and deeply , the increasing legalization of cannabis – whether for recreational or medical use – is correlated with an increased online interest in cannabis use as a cancer cure (Figure 2 ). Since the first statewide laws on medical cannabis (California 1996) and recreational cannabis (Colorado 2014) were enacted, the number of Americans with legal and illegal access to cannabis has been steadily growing . It is possible that legalization was a driver of interest and desire for online information about cannabis use in cancer. Studies have shown that the legalization of medical cannabis is associated with a decrease in perceived risk and an increase in the prevalence of cannabis use among patients and non-patients . However, it is also possible that legalization resulted from, rather than led to, rising interest in cannabis for recreational as well as medical use. Whether legalization causally contributes to an interest in a cannabis cancer cure cannot be discerned from the data presented here. However, as more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis and more dispensaries are available, the growing trend of interest in cannabis use in cancer is likely going to continue.
These findings reveal a growing interest in cannabis use as a cancer cure, and a crucial opportunity for physicians and medical organizations to communicate accurate information about the role of cannabis in cancer to patients, caregivers, and the general public.
All tests were two-sided with an alpha level of 0.05 unless specified otherwise. Statistical analyses were performed using RStudio (version 1.1.456, R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria).
The top false news story proposing cannabis as a cancer cure, ‘Cancer institute finally admits marijuana kills cancer,’ generated 4.26 million engagements. Snopes (snopes.com), a fact-checking organization, published a report challenging this false news story , but this report generated only 2,207 total engagements. Similarly, the most popular accurate news story debunking the false news (‘Pot Doesn’t Cure Cancer and Stop Saying It Does, FDA Says’) generated only 36,000 total engagements.