Cancer treatment with marijuana is not something most doctors are ready to embrace yet, but that is not stopping parents that are seeing results in their children from pursuing cannabis therapy. Landon Riddle is just 7-years-old and has been battling Leukemia since he was 3. He underwent intense chemotherapy treatments while living in Utah, but now resides in Colorado so that he can receive treatment with legal marijuana.
Landon’s mother believes fervently that cannabinoids, the compounds within marijuana that have the potential medicinal attributes, are the reason why he is still in remission. She believes that chemotherapy killed off the original cancer cells but that with the help of cannabis, the cancer has not returned. It is a wonderful story so far, however the challenge is that medical science cannot make decisive moves in treatment universally based off of stories such as these. Scientists need to break cannabis down in a laboratory and see under the microscope and on the computer the benefits of cannabis use and the detriments of its use. Doctors need to weigh benefits and detriments to determine the true medicinal value of anything. Have you asked why research on the medical value of cannabis has not been completed yet?
The findings so far from published lab studies suggest cannabidiol (CBD), one of more than 100 cannabinoids present in the plant, targets certain pathways in leukemia. The evidence indicates that leukemia cells have a high number of cannabinoid receptors—primarily the receptor CB2. The proteins on the cell membrane (receptors) recognize the chemical compound, CBD. The shape of the receptor mirrors the shape of the compound, enabling the CBD to land and attach to the cell. “It’s like a key in the lock,” says Dr. Bonni Goldstein, medical director of Canna-Centers in Los Angeles and the medical adviser to Weedmaps.com, a resource for people seeking specialists to oversee their medical cannabis treatment. “When compounds such as cannabidiol bond to receptors, it causes the cell to die.”
Further studies are needed to verify that CBD could potentially kill leukemia, says Robert McKallip, an associate professor of immunology at Mercer University School of Medicine, who conducted some of the earliest research on the anti-leukemia properties of compounds found in cannabis. McKallip suggests cannabis could be used along with other treatments for leukemia. “Combined with other targeted therapies, which again, specifically target the leukemia, you give it a one-two punch and hopefully reduce side effects and improve efficacy of treatment,” he says.
Riddle isn’t a doctor, but she theorizes that while the chemo initially cleared Landon’s cancer, it’s the cannabis that has kept his disease from coming back. Oncologists who treat pediatric patients often tell families that when the five-year mark passes, their child is in the clear. It’s been nearly five years since Riddle sat in that conference room meeting; Landon is still cancer-free. Riddle says that once he hits the five-year mark this fall, he’ll set a precedent for pediatric leukemia patients in the U.S., and maybe even worldwide.
Riddle, a single mother, was willing to do whatever it would take to rid Landon of the cancer in his blood that had spread to his brain and formed a tumor in his chest the size of a large grapefruit. She desperately wanted to trust the doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, where her son was diagnosed at age 2, and who admitted to her that they weren’t sure they could save his life.
She knew the leukemia treatment protocols are backed by decades of research. But they are infamously rough for a child and drag on for years. First, there would be several months of aggressive inpatient chemo and other therapies for what’s known as “remission reduction.” After that, even when blood work showed the disease had entered remission, Landon would need years of chemo and monitoring—called “consolidation”—to make sure his body wasn’t harboring leukemia cells.