Cannabis use may impact the quality and effectiveness of immunotherapy

Published Sep 24, 2020 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Ulrika

The cannabis plant is often boasted as a reliable and effective treatment for nearly everything, but as we delve deeper into the side effects of human beings consuming it, we’ve realized that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as cannabinoids can often adversely impact prescribed medicines that are used to treat life-threatening conditions, meaning that some individuals are entirely better off without it.

That is, of course, rarely the case, but when it happens, the consequences can be dire and devastating, as we’re now finding out It’s the reality for those who are undergoing immunotherapy as a cancer treatment. So far, at least one study has found that certain cancer patients shouldn’t dapple with the drug as it could worsen their condition instead of improving it.

Cannabis and cancer

Cannabis has many incredibly powerful qualities, and one that scientists have worked to prove is that it can benefit those who have cancer by relieving the symptoms of the illness, as well as healing the growing cells from within. In some cases, we’ve seen significant evidence that this is true with certain cancers, as long as the cannabinoids are ingested through oral methods, but some cancer treatment options just aren’t compatible with these natural elements.

Immunotherapy – A cancer treatment

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that can help a patient's immune system to fight off infections and other diseases. This option is one of the most successful tools in the arsenal of any doctor to treat or eradicate both adult and childhood cancers, as it uses living organisms to teach the body how to target and effectively destroy cancer cells without causing damage to the healthy tissues.

The study

The research, which was conducted by Dr. Idan Cohen and Professor Gil Bar Sela with the support of the Israel Cancer Association, focused on the potential benefits and drawbacks of introducing cannabis to a treatment regimen for patients who were undergoing immunotherapy. The study included the results from 102 patients who had all been diagnosed with advanced cancer.


Of the 102 participants, 34 were given cannabis and immunotherapy, while 68 received immunotherapy alone. All of the patients were studied at length for progress during their final stages of life, and once it was all over, the scientists concluded that the benefits of cannabis probably shouldn’t be combined with immunotherapy treatment.

The results

Researchers from the study openly acknowledged the benefits that they witnessed by watching the patients who were given cannabis, but in the end, even though they seemed to temporarily be made more comfortable, their results were worse than their non-cannabis taking counterparts. According to this study, the patients who took cannabis had poorer outcomes that were obvious and easy to document.

The most glaring problem they found was the fact that the patients who were using cannabis had tumors that grew at a much faster rate, indicating that the cannabinoids were interfering with the effectiveness of the immunotherapy cancer treatment, and sadly, they all ended up living for less time overall. So while they may have been more comfortable, taking cannabis reduced the success rates of the therapy.

Likely future recommendations

We still have plenty of research to do on the effects of cannabis and cancer as a treatment, but after the release of this study, most doctors are likely to stop recommending it as an aid where immunotherapy is being used to attack the disease. It may still be effective as a tool that is used both before and after the patient has completed the cancer treatment, but for now, the current clinical evidence shows that we should avoid mixing the two.

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