From the blog DESTROYED BY SCIENCE
A follower sent me this meme in a message and since I have seen it getting around a fair bit; I decided a debunk of this steaming pile of bull intestinal leavings was necessary. There are certain things in the wooniverse that really grind my gears to the point of being unable to peacefully sleep at night. One of those things is bleach enemas as an autism “cure”; and tied for first place on the list of woo that makes me stabby has got to be people who promote fake cancer cures and invent conspiracy stories about doctors wanting to keep people sick because Big Pharma something something. This meme from the No Master No Slave (1) Facebook page (dress code: foil hat essential), bundles several “cures” together with an unhealthy dose of fear mongering about modern allopathic medicine; as well as an accusation that research foundations are nothing but BS. Ready to destroy this?
Claim 1: Cannabis Cures Cancer!
A big claim, no? Grouped in here is the statement: “Anyone interested should look up Rick Simpson Oil and Phoenix Tears. Also check out The Virginia Study and watch Run From the Cure”. So, what we have here is essentially a website that includes a sales pitch and a video, and a 30 year old study. I can hear the cries of the RSO defendants from here. “Oh, but Rick Simpson isn’t selling anything! He is telling people how to make the oil for free.” This may be true; however, it is also certainly true that he is making some money. A quick visit to his website will show you that he is selling books and there is also a button you can use to make a donation. Anyhow, regardless of whether Rick Simpson stands to profit from his statements or he is just a really nice guy (I actually do think it is more that he passionately believes in the power of cannabis oil; I don’t think he is out to make huge amounts of money – but please correct me if I am wrong), they are still fraught with intellectual dishonesty.
I would draw your attention to this statement (2).* An extensive list of claims about cannabis oil and accusations about modern medicine are made, interspersed with comments like “studies show” (no studies are actually given), and statements that show a lack of understanding of basic chemistry, such as this one:
“Myself and many others have gone through realms of so-called scientific studies which I found to be mostly double-talk and most of these studies were about synthetic THC which bears little resemblance to natural THC and its associated cannabinoids found in the hemp plant.”
Little resemblance? Synthetic (-)-trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (dronabinol) is the same molecule as is found in the cannabis plant. There isn’t just a little resemblance, the chemical structures are exactly the same (3).
Whilst it is very true that Marinol, (trademark name for synthetic dronabinol), may not have the same effectiveness as the plant due to the complex mixture of other cannabinoids and compounds present in the plant; this doesn’t change the fact that the two molecules are exactly the same. Certainly, research into the effectiveness of the different components of the cannabis plant is important, since dronabinol does have psychoactive side effects which not all patients will enjoy. There is a certainly a possibility that different compounds will have stronger anti cancer properties than others and synergistic effects could also be a factor to consider. Identification of active ingredients and their chemical properties or physiological effects is a positive step of research, not one to be written off as “so-called scientific studies”.
Another highlight of Rick’s statement is the point at which he goes full tin foil and begins to rave about fluoride, including this incredible observation:
“Did Hitler not use fluoride in his death camps to keep the inmates calm so they would not try to escape or revolt?”
Let me rearrange that sentence for you, Rick. Hitler did not use fluoride in his death camps to keep the inmates calm so they would not try to escape or revolt. This ridiculous, full Godwin statement, shows you the level of tin foil we are talking here. Even anti fluoride spokespeople have criticised the use of this urban myth (4) to discourage fluoridation, since they feel it damages their position. You don’t say!
I could go on and on about Rick Simpson, however, dismantling the entirety of his claims that cannabis oil is a panacea or miracle cure for not just cancer, but a host of other ailments, is a blog post in itself. For the time being, I will stick to the evidence on cannabis oil and breast cancer. Whilst still on the topic of Rick Simpson, I’d like to note that he doesn’t provide any evidence other than a bunch of testimonials – which is sweet, but widely known to be completely meaningless and often cherry picked. Anecdotes do not equal evidence nor a clinical trial do they make. While there are likewise testimonials of cancer survivors who opted for conventional treatment, there is actual scientific research to support their nice stories.
A final note on testimonials – it is important to be wary of testimonials from those who claim to have been cured from alternative methods, as many of these people have also undergone conventional treatment, either concurrently or previously. Let’s take the case of Stefanie LaRue, described here (5) by David Gorski on Science Based Medicine. LaRue underwent conventional treatment for 8 years before she started taking cannabis oil, yet still attributes her very positive survival time to cannabis oil, rather than the conventional treatments.
In any case, Simpson covers his bases by claiming that anyone who isn’t cured by his oil has been too damaged by conventional medicine and it is the treatment that kills them, as opposed to cancer (6). This negation of the possible benefits of chemotherapy is an intellectually dishonest approach and you can read about the tactics used by alternative medicine proponents to deter people from taking life saving or prolonging measures on Science Based Medicine here (7). And another SBM article here (8), discusses specifically how a meta-analysis has shown that chemotherapy has cut breast cancer mortality by a third. This is a huge number of lives saved. I don’t want to downplay the side effects of chemotherapy; or over inflate its effectiveness, it’s absolutely true that not all cancers respond in the same way to chemotherapy, but this just highlights the importance of research and more individualised treatment regimes. I ask myself here, what mechanism would Simpson propose that all cancers would respond in the same way to cannabis oil, using the same dose of crude compound, with an unknown amount of active ingredients present?
Apart from anecdotal evidence and the movie “Run From the Cure” (which I won’t address here; since movies aren’t exactly high on the list of scientific evidence); Rick Simpson and the meme above focus on one particular study for their proof that cannabis cures cancer – The Virginia Study (9).
This study, published 41 years ago now, reported the following in the abstract:
“Lewis lung adenocarcinoma growth was retarded by the oral administration of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabinol (CBN), but not cannabidiol (CBD). Animals treated for 10 consecutive days with delta-9-THC, beginning the day after tumor implantation, demonstrated a dose-dependent action of retarded tumor growth. Mice treated for 20 consecutive days with delta-8-THC and CBN had reduced primary tumor size. CBD showed no inhibitory effect on tumor growth at 14, 21, or 28 days. Delta-9-THC, delta-8-THC, and CBN increased the mean survival time (36% at 100 mg/kg, 25% at 200 mg/kg, and 27% at 50 mg/kg;, respectively), whereas CBD did not. Delta-9-THC administered orally daily until death in doses of 50, 100, or 200 mg/kg did not increase the life-spans of (C57BL/6 X DBA/2) F (BDF) mice hosting the L1210 murine leukemia. However, delta-9-THC administered daily for 10 days significantly inhibited Friend leukemia virus-induced splenomegaly by 71% at 200 mg/kg as compared to 90.2% for actinomycin D.”
Also of note, from the conclusion of the study:
“The high doses of delta-9-THC (i.e., 200 mg/kg) are not tolerable in humans. On a body-surface basis, this would be about 17 mg/m(2) for mice. Extrapolation to a 60-kg man would require 1,020 mg for comparable dosage. The highest doses administered to man have been 250-300 mg.”
This study is touted far and wide by the cannabis cures cancer crowd as irrefutable proof that cannabis cures cancer and the government/Big Pharma has been suppressing it all this time. I’m going to spend a little bit of time in part 4 of this blog post talking about the illogical idea that there are cancer cures being suppressed by the government/Big Pharma; but for now I’d just like to point out the glaringly obvious: study in mice, not breast cancer, and very high doses needed to see the effects. Really, the No Master No Slave meme would be far better off referencing other studies that are more recent or have more relevance. So, what does the evidence have to say about breast cancer and cannabis?
When David Gorski analysed Arjun Walia’s web page: 20 Medical Studies That Prove Cannabis Can Cure Cancer (10); he identified 4 studies that were related to breast cancer. Gorski discusses the results of the studies and you can read about it here (6); but I’ll give you a spoiler. None were studies in humans, they are on cell lines or mouse models. Almost always, a purified compound such as cannabidiol (CBD) or delta-9-THC is used. One of the studies was not even on a cannabinoid found in the plant. Although some potential for anti-cancer activity has been identified, this is nowhere near enough evidence that cannabis cures breast cancer in an impure form and it is simply intellectually dishonest to claim so. Gorski concludes:
“Even in purified form, naturally-derived or synthetic cannabinoid agonists show relatively modest anti tumour activity in preclinical models, which means that they will have to be combined with existing chemotherapeutic regimens. If they do find their way into the routine clinical treatment of cancer, it will be through rigorous pharmacological studies and rigorous clinical trials, the latter of which, in particular, are painfully lacking…It’s not a lot, and suggests that there is not much interest in even synthetic cannabinoids as a treatment for cancer. After all, there are so many other promising avenues that a class of drugs that show the modest effects that the cannabinoids I’ve discussed do, just don’t excite researchers that much.”
Other science bloggers have also written about cannabis and cancer, such as Skeptical Raptor (11), who includes some discussion of the nature of cancer and the fact that it is a very complex disease, with many, many different types and subtypes. Claiming that there is a one-cure-for-all-cancers should ring your skeptical bells if you know even the slightest bit about cancer. Robert Todd Carroll of The Skeptic’s Dictionary also discusses it here (12). The Ohara Tree blog has a post titled Cannabis, Cannabinoids and Medicine (13), outlining some of the studies done and also addressing the point that animals are thought to be more sensitive to cannabinoids. This highlights one of the reasons that animal studies are low on the hierarchy of scientific evidence (discussed by Skeptical Raptor here (14)).
The Compound Interest Rough Guide To Types of Scientific Evidence (15)
Cancer Research U.K. has also looked at many of the studies and written about the ongoing research into cannabis and cannabinoids (16):
“We often see websites with long lists of scientific papers claiming that cannabis is a “cure” for various cancers. However, when we look at the detail of the data and the experimental detail of the research, it becomes clear that although they may be interesting and build evidence to show that cannabinoids may one day bring benefits for cancer patients, they are far from being a cure. . .It’s also important to think about what’s being claimed when people use the word “cure”. To most people, including us, this means that a cancer is completely treated and does not come back. When we look at the data in the papers listed below, none of them come close to showing these kinds of results. For the experiments involving cells grown in the lab, a proportion of the cells are killed or stop growing, but some of them carry on. Similarly in animal experiments, there is no data that shows a 100 per cent success rate for cannabinoids. For example, most mice treated with cannabinoids will still have tumours, although the cancers may be growing more slowly and spread less in some of them.”
And finally, from the American Cancer Society (17):
“There have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans and more studies are planned. While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease. Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.”
For me, this is the biggest concern I have. While it is certainly a person’s right to choose if they wish to forgo conventional medicine in favour of an unproven treatment; it shouldn’t be because they have been given misleading or false information about that treatments potential. There has been some anti cancer activity shown in pre clinical models for certain cannabinoids, they may one day be used in treatment of certain cancers- but so far, cannabis has not been shown to cure cancer. And, when and if it does, you know what they will call it? Chemotherapy.
I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible, but another place that keeps updated information on cannabis oil cancer cure claims and other alternative medicine cancer cure claims is The New Horsemen group on Facebook.
That brings me to the end of Part 1 of No Science, No Evidence, No Clue. In Part 2, I will address the claim “Alkalinity can cure cancer”.
*N.B. When I first began writing this article, this statement was found on Simpson’s website. However when I went back later to check the year of publication for the citation list, it had been removed and replaced with a statement about “superoils”. I found the transcript of his statement on another website, which I linked instead.
(1) Unknown (2015). NoMaster NoSlave. Retrieved 18 November 2015, from https://www.facebook.com/NoMasterNoSlave/?ref=ts&fref=ts
(2) Simpson, R. (2010). Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil « Kind Green Buds. Kindgreenbuds.com. Retrieved 12 November 2015, from http://www.kindgreenbuds.com/medical-marijuana/rick-simpsons-hemp-oil/
(3) Pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov,. (2004). Dronabinol | C21H30O2 – PubChem. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dronabinol#section=Top
(4) Bowers, B. (2011). Truth about fluoride doesn’t include Nazi myth. @politifact. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2011/oct/06/critics-water-fluoridation/truth-about-fluoride-doesnt-include-nazi-myth/
(5) Gorski, D. (2015). Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 3: A “cannabis cures cancer” testimonial « Science-Based Medicine. Sciencebasedmedicine.org. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/medical-marijuana-as-the-new-herbalism-part-3-a-cannabis-cures-cancer-testimonial/
(6) Gorski, D. (2014). Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 2: Cannabis does not cure cancer « Science-Based Medicine. Sciencebasedmedicine.org. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/medical-marijuana-as-the-new-herbalism-part-2-cannabis-does-not-cure-cancer/
(7) Gorski, D. (2011). Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast… « Science-Based Medicine.Sciencebasedmedicine.org. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/chemotherapy-doesnt-work/
(8) Gorski, D. (2013). Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast… (A lesson from history) « Science-Based Medicine. Sciencebasedmedicine.org. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/chemotherapy-doesnt-work-not-so-fast-a-lesson-from-history/
(9) Munson, A., Harris, L., Friedman, M., Dewey, W., & Carchman, R. (1975). Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal Of The National Cancer Institute, 55(3), 597-602. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jnci/55.3.597
(10) Walia, A., Ketler, A., Jaxen, J., & Martino, J. (2013). 20 Medical Studies That Show Cannabis Can Be A Potential Cure For Cancer. Collective-Evolution. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/08/23/20-medical-studies-that-prove-cannabis-can-cure-cancer/
(11) Skeptical Raptor,. (2015). Part 2. Marijuana and cancer – assessing the science. Skeptical Raptor’s Blog. Retrieved 3 November 2015, from http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/part-2-marijuana-and-cancer-assessing-the-science/
(12) Carroll, R. (2015). Rick Simpson (b. 1950?) : Cannabis Cures Cancer. The Skeptics Dictionary. Retrieved 3 November 2015, from http://skepdic.com/ricksimpson.html
(13) WickerMan,. (2015). Ohara Tree. Oharatree.info. Retrieved 18 November 2015, from http://www.oharatree.info/2015/05/marijuana-and-cannabinoids-and-medicine.html
(14) Skeptical Raptor,. (2015). The hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to skepticism. Skeptical Raptor’s Blog. Retrieved 18 November 2015, from http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/the-hierarchy-of-scientific-evidence-keys-to-skepticism/#more-7745
(15) Compound Interest,. (2015). A Rough Guide to Types of Scientific Evidence. Retrieved 18 November 2015, from http://www.compoundchem.com/2015/04/09/scientific-evidence/
(16) Arney, K. (2015). Cannabis, cannabinoids and cancer – the evidence so far. Cancer Research UK – Science blog. Retrieved 3 November 2015, from http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/comment-page-1/#comment-36791
(17) Cancer.org,. (2015). Marijuana and Cancer. Retrieved 3 November 2015, from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/chemotherapyeffects/marijuana-and-cancer