Cannabis has shown to be effective in relieving pain, decreasing nausea, and increasing appetite in patients with cancer and other illnesses.
Every year, millions of people across the United States contract HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus. HPV is a type of viral infection that results in the growth of warts along the skin and mucous membranes of the body. In some cases of HPV, but not all, these warts can lead to a variety of different cancers. In particular, HPV types 16 and 18 are associated with the development of cervical cancer in women — according to the American Cancer Society, about 70% of all cases of cervical cancer are thought to be caused by the human papillomavirus. However, HPV can also cause cancers in the genitals of men and women, as well as cancers of the anus, mouth, and the back of the throat.
For a number of years, it was thought that using cannabis may increase one’s risk of contracting HPV. However, current research has shown little evidence to suggest a direct connection between HPV and marijuana use itself. In fact, as I will explain below, cannabis may actually be effective in bringing relief to those living with pain caused by HPV and other conditions.
What Causes HPV?
Human papillomavirus is mainly contracted through sexual intercourse, but HPV can also be spread from one person to another through small cuts or abrasions in the skin. Those who have injuries to the skin and come into close contact with an HPV-infected person are at risk of contracting HPV.
There are a variety of other factors that may also put one at risk of developing HPV — those who have a compromised immune system, especially as a result of HIV/AIDS, and those who have numerous sexual partners are at a higher risk of developing HPV than the general population. Young people are also at the highest risk of getting HPV: of the six million people who become infected each year, it is estimated that roughly half of them are between the ages of 15 and 25.
Can Marijuana Cause HPV?
Previously, some research had suggested that there may be a possible link between cannabis use and the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated oropharyngeal cancer. This report published in 1990, for example, theorized that there could be a connection between cannabis smoking and tongue cancer. However, a study published in 2006 by the
American Association for Cancer Research showed virtually no connection between cannabis use and cancers of the mouth or upper respiratory tract.
More recent research has shown similar findings: A 2018 study found that heavy cannabis use was strongly associated with periodontitis, but the researchers did not find sufficient evidence to suggest that using marijuana led to a higher risk of oral HPV infection. Another study, published in Infectious Agents and Cancer, found that there was no correlation between cannabis use and risk of cervical HPV. This study also found no evidence to suggest that cannabis aided in the formation of new cervical squamous intraepithelial lesions (SIL) among HIV-positive women.
Safe Cannabis Consumption Is Crucial
Cannabis use by itself does not cause HPV, nor does it lead to the formation of HPV-related cancers. However, since HPV typically affects the mucous membranes in the body, including the lips and mouth, it is possible to contract HPV from sharing drinks, food, and even cosmetics with someone who is infected with HPV. By the same logic, it is possible that someone could contract HPV by sharing a joint or a vaporizer with someone who has HPV. For this reason, it is advised to use caution when consuming cannabis in a group setting.
Although there is no clear link between marijuana use and HPV or cervical cancer, smoking any substance puts one at risk of respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer and other diseases. Therefore, alternative methods of cannabis inhalation, such as vaporization, are highly recommended over smoking.
Can Cannabis Help Those With HPV?
Although there has been no research conducted solely on the efficacy of using cannabis to treat symptoms caused by HPV, cannabis has shown to be effective in relieving pain, decreasing nausea, and increasing appetite in patients with cancer and other illnesses. This means that for those with HPV and HPV-related cancers, using cannabis in conjunction with other treatments may be beneficial in helping to alleviate these symptoms, as well. Those who are wondering if adding marijuana to their treatment plan may be advantageous should first consult with a doctor who has experience with aiding patients with medical cannabis.
As of right now, the Food and Drug Administration has approved three vaccines for the prevention of HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is recommended that pre-adolescents between the age of eleven and twelve begin the series of vaccinations in order to prevent against HPV infection, but the vaccine is approved for those as young as nine years old. It is recommended that children finish the series of vaccinations before they become sexually active.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that those who receive vaccinations against HPV before adolescence are more likely to engage in early sexual activity. It should also be noted that although the HPV vaccine is approved for people between the ages of 9 and 45, the vaccine will not treat those who are already infected with HPV.
Jordan Tishler, M.D. is a physician, cannabis specialist, and faculty at Harvard Medical School. He is also the president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, and CEO of InhaleMD — a private institute of cannabis medicine. He has spent years assisting patients with cannabis. For more information, or to set up a consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call (617) 861-8519.