I’m not going to keep you in suspense. The two proposed miracle cures are L-carnitine (an amino acid) and “Delta 8,” which in a previous Doc Gumshoe disquisition was unmasked as Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol, or Delta 8 THC (Δ8 THC), which is one of perhaps a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, as well as in other plants. I’m torn between my desire to tear into the “advertising quacks who weary with tales of countless cures,” (In the words of The Mikado, who goes on to say “whose teeth I’ve enacted shall all be extracted by terrified amateurs”). I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it does strike me that the promoters/hustlers, in proclaiming that their products will “cure” all kinds of diseases and conditions, are, among other things, tarnishing the reputations of substances that might genuinely benefit some patients in dealing with some diseases and conditions. So I will balance my desire to extract the teeth of those advertising quacks with my wish to investigate whatever benefits these substances might provide.
We have to admit that before the quacks get into it, the process of linking a particular substance with a health benefit is mostly benevolent. It arises from a hard-wired response in ourselves and our fellow-humans to ascribe a cause and effect relationship whenever we see that an effect follows a particular action. We cannot see how the action produces that effect, but we infer the cause-and-effect relationship. If we eat a bowl of chicken soup and our cold symptoms get a bit better, the chicken soup must be why we feel better.
If we think about it, all cause-and-effect relationships are inferred rather than observed. The batter swings the bat and hits the pitched ball which then reverses its direction and goes flying off towards right field. It’s immediately obvious that the contact between the bat and the ball is the cause of the ball’s reversal of direction and travel towards the bleachers. But we cannot see what actually happened. We can only infer that there was a transfer of energy – kinetic energy – between the bat and the ball. We cannot see this transfer, but we know that it took place. Acceptance of this inference is hard-wired into the ways we interact with the world. The philosopher Immanuel Kant identified this as one of the categories of perception.
These inferred cause-and-effect relationships often lead to fruitful discoveries – a speck of mold falls into a Petri dish in which a colony of bacteria are growing, and the bacteria around that speck of mold disappear. A cause-and-effect relationship is inferred – something in the mold kills the bacteria – and from that inference (and quite a bit of further investigation) comes penicillin.
However, sometimes those inferences are wrong. A woman with breast cancer applied a salve made from a certain tropical fruit and her breast cancer vanished. A natural inference is that the salve cured the breast cancer. What else could possibly have brought about that cure? But then a certain amount of investigation dispels that inference: none of the constituents of the tropical fruit seem to have any effect on cancer cells in vitro, and the same kind of salve is applied to the breasts of other women with breast cancer with no results. This is an invented and oversimplified example of the fallacy that if event B takes place after event A, then event A must be the cause of event B. However, that fallacy is real and widespread, and is a result of the basic truth that we cannot actually perceive the cause-and-effect relationship anymore than we can actually perceive the exchange of kinetic energy between the bat and the ball. The tendency to make that cause-and-effect relationship is part of the working tools of our brains.
I have gone into perhaps excessive detail on this to make the point that making assumptions that particular substances are miracle cures is not necessarily based on a desire to defraud the public, but on a natural inference gone astray, perhaps guided by wishful thinking. The advertising quack takes over after those assumptions have been made.
So let’s take a look at these miracle cures. Delta 8 comes up first.
Might Delta 8 THC have any effects on cancer?
My initial inclination was to give this one a pass. The spiel, forwarded to me by Travis, has all the usual earmarks of a hustle promoting yet one more “miracle cure” that is overlooked – nay, suppressed! – by the medical establishment and its stooges in government.
The promotion consists of the usual endless video, but happily there are ways to avoid having to watch the whole thing. Here’s how it leads off:
“Over 6,226 Americans Reportedly Beat Their Cancer…Illegally
Micah Carter, age 2, had his advanced leukemia sent into remission in just 6 days
Daniel Hilliard, a former biochemist at a leading cancer hospital, beat stage 4 prostate cancer…without chemo
Carrie Sullivan, who also grows and sells Delta 8, had stage 4 ovarian cancer…and 90 days later it was gone
Katherine Marie, age 24, saw her “inoperable” brain tumor shrink after three MRI’s… without touching chemo
Thousands of Americans reportedly using a BANNED herb called “Delta-8” to miraculously cure their cancer… Here’s how you could join this group of renegade cancer survivors—without breaking the law…”
There you’ve got it. The cure is dubbed “Delta 8,” which is Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol – Δ8 THC for short. For a start, it’s not illegal by any means, so we can remove that particular thrill from the pitch. There are many, many cannabinoid analogues. The particular cannabinoid that has gotten the most medical attention is Δ9 THC, which may have some legitimate medical uses.
The spiel from the Institute for Natural Healing, which ends up being an ad for their Independent Healing newsletter, goes on to sound the usual notes, such as that if Δ8 THC got to be widely used, it would bankrupt the pharmaceutical industry. Here are some tidbits:
“…a molecular breakthrough BANNED by the White House … for the last 79 years, the government has done everything in its power to abolish this cancer treatment… if politicians are REALLY concerned with our health, why don’t they outlaw chemo or radiation? Why BAN this safe, potent cancer treatment instead?
Is it because it’s 100% natural and can be grown in any home garden? So nobody can patent it? Which makes it a threat to the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical interests? The same conglomerates who wield tremendous lobbying power in Washington…and depend on conventional cancer care for $125 billion annually?”
There is not enough of the Δ8 THC in the marijuana plant for a concentrate of this particular cannabinoid, which perhaps is why it was chosen as the subject for the promotion. In other words, you cannot grow it in your home garden. To obtain the Δ8 THC supplement, you will need to join the Institute for Independent Healing. And once you join up, you will receive valuable – nay, priceless! – information that will provide you with outright cures for countless other diseases, including Alzheimer’s, etc, etc.
The promotion of course includes the names and photographs of a number of people whose cancers have been cured by Δ8 THC in a very short time. But then, a tiny note at the end of the promotion concedes that the photographs are for illustrative purposes only. Are those people real?
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Notwithstanding, the medical research community has not neglected the cannabinoids in general and Δ8 THC in particular. Although Δ9 THC is by far more common and more studied than Δ8 THC, with 7,660 papers indexed in PubMed, Δ8 THC itself is the subject of 1,097 journal papers. Of these, 51 journal papers in some way link Δ8 THC with cancer, so perhaps there is something to the hype.
By the way, not all cannabinoids come from the cannabis plant – many other plants contain cannabinoids, including Echinacea, which you may know as coneflowers. And we synthesize our own cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. All these affect our cannabinoids receptors.
A just-published paper (Fraguas-Sámchez A., Drugs 2018 Oct 29) which surveyed medical uses of cannabinoids, lists the possible influence of cannabinoid receptors on a large range of physiologic processes. These include energy balance, appetite stimulation, blood pressure, pain modulation, nausea and vomiting control, memory, learning, and immune response. Medical conditions possibly related to changes in cannabinoid levels include Parkinson’s disease, Huntingt