Cannabis leukemia treatment, or treatment for any form of cancer with cannabinoids, is controversial to say the least, but not for the mother of Landon Riddle. Sierra, Landon’s mother, has not only dealt wither her little boy’s cancer but also has had to deal aggressively with negativity from doctors over the treatment for her son that has worked the best for him. Parents that care for their sick children are with them constantly and any small change catches their attention. When cannabis was introduced to her son as a treatment, she was able to wean him off of many of the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by Landon’s doctors and her son showed relief from the symptoms of extensive chemotherapy treatments.
There are a number of personal stories of marijuana helping cancer patients in some way, but nothing is clear about what exactly marijuana can do to help patients. Extensive research must be conducted to know how cannabis can battle cancer but until the federal government removes cannabis from its schedule 1 listing, there is little chance of the necessary testing being completed. Have you heard enough stories about cannabis helping people medically to want to see the research completed?
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.
This aggressive approach is one of the main reasons pediatric leukemia, depending on its more specific classification, has at least an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society estimates that nearly 5,000 kids will be diagnosed in the U.S. with some form of leukemia in 2017. For most of the kids who go through the entire course of treatment, the illness turns out to be a mere blip on the screen of childhood. Riddle hoped the same would be true for her son. But Landon appeared to be among a small percentage of children with leukemia for whom the treatment was unbearable, excruciating. The chemo caused him to vomit up to 50 times a day, which made it difficult for him to speak because his esophagus was burned and closed up. The chemo had compromised his immune system so severely that he caught every bug in the hospital, just about every strain of stomach viruses, influenza and the common cold. He eventually developed numbness, tingling, pain and weakness (neuropathy) in his feet and ankles, and was no longer able to walk.
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