A recent scientific review concludes that marijuana’s legal status should be revisited given existing research that shows cannabis’s components can inhibit tumor growth and help with cancer management.
Researchers at Amity University in India detailed the scientific literature surrounding the effects of cannabinoids on different cancer types and also looked at marijuana’s anti-nausea, appetite stimulation and pain relieving qualities.
Besides treating symptoms of chemotherapy side effects, cannabis also shows potential in slowing the growth of cancer cells and even kill cancer cells in certain cases, the researchers wrote.
“THC and CBD exhibit effective analgesic, anxiolytic, and appetite-stimulating effect on patients suffering from cancer.”
But that’s not all. “Apart from exerting palliative effects, THC also shows promising role in the treatment of cancer growth, neurodegenerative diseases (multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease), and alcohol addiction and hence should be exploited for potential benefits,” an abstract of the study, published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics, states.
The majority of the studies that were reviewed were based on in vitro experiments, meaning they did not involve human subjects but rather isolated cancer cells from humans, while some of the research used mice.
Cannabinoids appear to “exert potent [anti-growth] activity and activate various apoptotic mechanisms eventually leading to cell death” of cancer cells associated with glioma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
At least once clinical trial showed that patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme who were treated with a “proprietary combination of THC and CBD” in addition to a traditional pharmaceutical had a higher one-year survival rate (83 percent) compared to a placebo group (53 percent).
Another study found blood cancer cells that were treated with two synthetic endocannabinoids activated receptors that “mediated apoptosis,” or the death of the cells.
In certain cell lines of prostate cancer, similar findings were observed. There was “[s]ignificant cell growth inhibition followed by apoptosis” in one particular cancer cell type in a “study which was designed to evaluate the in vitro effects of endocannabinioids such as 2-arachidonoyl glycerol, anadamine, and its synthetic analog methazolamide.”
Less research has been conducted on the effects of cannabis on lung, breast, oral and liver cancers, but the study authors documented instances where mice with certain lung cancer types treated with THC experienced a “notable reduction of the subcutaneous tumor growth and lung metastasis” of those cells, “prompting its significance as a novel therapeutic molecule in lung cancer treatment.”
But while THC is a common study focus, other cannabinoids show particular potential in treating different cancer types, they found. For example, a synthetic CBD compound (940-CBD) was the most effective “in terms of antiproliferative effects and invasiveness” of a particular breast cancer cell line.
When treated with THC, an oral cancer cell line that’s “highly resistant to anticancer drugs,” showed increased “cellular respiration inhibition,” whereas another conventional treatment option “showed no such effect.”
While researchers have investigated a wide range of cancer treatments, “the utilization of THC and their derivatives is still unexplored pharmacologically owing to their ‘habit-forming’ nature,” the researchers concluded. “Specific targeting of cannabinoid receptors can be used to manage severe side effects during chemotherapy, palliative care and overall cancer management.”
“Furthermore, research evidences on cannabinoids have suggested tumor inhibiting and suppressing properties which warrant reconsidering legality of the substance,” they said. “Studies on [cannabinoid] receptors, in case of cancers, have demonstrated the psychoactive constituents of cannabinoids to be potent against tumor growth.”
Because the activation of CB1 and CBD2 cannabinoid receptors “tends to limit human cancer cell growth,” there may be a “role of the endocannabinoid system as a novel target for treatment of cancers” and “[f]urther explorations are required to exploit cannabinoids for an effective cancer management.”
The findings reflect another recent study that also explored the therapeutic potential of cannabis extracts in the treatment of different cancers. Like this new review, it demonstrated that while variation in cannabinoids that are used to treat distinct cancer cell lines is an important consideration, the growing data on marijuana’s ability to inhibit cell growth and kill cancer cells indicates that it should be a major area of research going forward.