Cannabis and Cancer
It has long been accepted that cannabis is very useful in helping cancer patients to manage their symptoms – pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia and others. For several decades, a synthetic version of THC, the active component of cannabis, has been available in the prescription drug, Marinol. Though now marketed as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients, Marinol has also been used to treat cancer patients with nausea and vomiting.
As Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief of Oncology and Hematology for San Francisco General Hospital stated in an interview, “I can sit there and write [cancer patients] a prescription to cover each one of those symptoms, or I can recommend they try one medicine, and that’s cannabis.”
Though the medical establishment will require much needed clinical trials in order to be convinced, evidence has been mounting that the cannabinoids in cannabis – THC and CBD – are not just good for palliative care but also have a direct anti-tumor effect.
And the Research Says…
Martin A. Lee of Project CBD, an organization that promotes research into the medical benefits of CBD,wrote in the Daily Beast about some of the past research that shows how cannabis slows down and inhibits cancer growth.
- In 1998, a researcher in Spain published a study in a European biochemistry journal on how THC induces aptosis (cell death) in C6 glioma cells, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The researcher, Cristina Sanchez, stumbled upon the anti-cancer properties of THC while studying cell metabolism in brain cells. She noticed that the cancer cells died each time they were exposed to THC.
- In 2006, a pilot clinical trial to assess THC’s anti-tumor effects on humans was conducted by a team of Spanish scientists led by Manuel Guzman. The scientists found significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in every one of the nine hospitalized patients with glioblastoma who had failed to respond to standard brain-cancer therapies.
- Bloomberg reported in 2007 about a Harvard University research study with mice that suggests cannabis shrank their lung tumors by half and slowed down the disease. This research is the first to show that THC may block a known cancer-related protein—high levels of which make lung cancer cells very aggressive and resistant to treatment.
- Sean McAllister of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco discovered that CBD may inhibit the spread of breast cancer. In a 2007 study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Dr. McAllister introduced CBD as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in aggressive breast cancer cells. CBD switches off the Id-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell conductor. As no other agent is known to do this, Dr. McAllister postulates that CBD could be a breakthrough anti-cancer medication.
These are just a few examples of the studies currently available that corroborate the potential anti-cancer properties of cannabis.
However, to see for yourself how THC selectively kills human cancer cells, please watch this time-lapse video taken by Dr. McAllister and his colleague Dr. Garret Yount with the SETH Group.
Current Thinking on Cannabis and Cancer
Most recently in 2014, a paper published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics revealed that a combination of THC and CBD used with radiation treatment was able to effectively shrink high-grade glioma masses in mice.
These published results reflect a growing understanding in the cannabis research community that the most effective form of treatment is one that combines THC and CBD with conventional cancer therapy. This combination is thought to have a synergistic effect on cancer reduction.
To learn more about this synergistic combination of cannabinoids with conventional cancer treatment, please read the second installment of our Cannabis and Cancer series in the knowledge center.