A global leader in medicinal cannabis research has warned that cannabis remains a “lottery” for cancer sufferers and advised patients to continue seeking regular treatments that have higher chances of success.
Dr Dedi Meiri, assistant professor at the Faculty of Biology at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, said he “needs more time” to explore the potential benefit of cannabis for those fighting cancer.
Until researchers unearth better results, patients should stick with tried and tested remedies, Dr Meiri said.
But speaking on a webinar hosted by Technion Australia, he stressed it remains clear that cannabis will have a major influence on medicine over the next few years.
Asked how he responds when patients ask what strain of cannabis they should use for their condition, Dr Meiri said: “I don’t usually answer. If we take cancer, there are hundreds of types of cancer. There are more than 40 types of breast cancer and every cell in our body can have its own type of cancer.
“And just in my lab I have 900 varieties of cannabis, each one with different combinations. So it’s a lottery to define which cannabis can affect your cancer.
“I need more time [for research]. For now, I would usually tell a patient to go with the regular treatment because the rate of success is much, much, much higher than cannabis. Cannabis is still a lottery with these types of diseases.”
But cannabis has shown its worth in numerous other conditions, he stressed.
“When we’re talking about sleep, pain, appetite, epilepsy, the rate of success is bigger and I’d say why not try something that has less side effects and can be useful. But terminal diseases like cancer, I would not use cannabis until we have better results.”
Dr Meiri added that cannabis was among the drugs being explored by oncologists as they seek to become more targeted in the eradication of defective cells.
Among the drawbacks of chemotherapy is that it does not distinguish between cancer cells and healthy cells.
Addressing the future of medicinal cannabis, Dr Meiri said it was here to stay, with clear evidence of its benefits for several conditions and ailments.
“It’s clear that cannabis won’t disappear. There are enough illnesses where we know that it’s working,” he told the webinar audience.
He identified severe epilepsy in children as one example where cannabis was known to ease suffering.
Children with severe forms of the condition don’t usually survive beyond 12 or 14, he said. Yet cannabis was reducing seizures by up to 70%, with some patients now free of seizures altogether.
“Think about a child who probably wouldn’t survive but is now taking cannabis and is seizure-free. There is no way you can take the wheel back. This is here to stay.”
He predicted medicinal cannabis will fall into two types as the industry develops. One will be “very accurate”, comprising two molecules, synthetic or from the plant, that will be manufactured and branded, and sold in pill form by pharmaceutical firms.
“Taking this will help you sleep, or reduce seizures, and other things like that,” he said. “The other type will be more holistic. Patients with pain, autistic kids, cancer patients who take cannabis for palliative care. They are taking cannabis as a holistic treatment. It’s reducing a little bit of pain, increasing appetite, improving their mood. It’s many things together and instead of taking seven pills they are taking cannabis. It will be very mild…. but will be improving the quality of life of the patient.”