There are a few research facilities that are experimenting with cannabinoid treatments for cancer. One of the primary institutions is the Complutense University of Madrid. A team of biologists and neuroscientists have been studying the effects of THC on tumors for over a decade.
Dr. Christina Sanchez on her research
Dr. Christina Sanchez is a molecular biologist working on cannabis and cancer research. She is a part of a larger team which has discovered that THC effectively kills tumors in both cultured cells and animal models. Thus far, their work has focused primarily on brain and breast cancers.
Here’s how she explains their work,
We started working on this project 12 or 15 years ago, and it was basically by chance. We were working with astrocytes [a cell of the central nervous system] at the time and we decided to change the model and work with astrocytoma cells, the tumoral cells.
We observed that when we treated these cells with cannabinoids, THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, was killing the cells in our Petri dishes. We were killing the cells.
From Petri dish to animal models
After success with cultured cells, the researchers then decided to experiment with cannabinoids in animal models of cancer. They treated rodents with breast and brain tumors with cannabinoid therapies.
The results we are obtaining are telling us that cannabinoids may be useful for the treatment of breast cancer. We started to do experiments in animal models of glioblastoma, brain tumors, and we observed that the cannabinoids were very potent in reducing tumor growth. – Dr. Sanchez
How does it work?
There’s no doubt that cannabinoids like THC and CBD were effectively killing cancer cells. But, how? What were these cannabis compounds doing to the tumors?
Cells can die in different ways. After cannabinoid treatment, [the glioma cells] were dying in the clean way. They were committing suicide, which is something you really want if you have an anti-tumoral drug. – Dr. Sanchez
Sanchez goes on to explain that cannabinoids uniquely target tumor cells. They do not have any toxic effect on normal, healthy cells throughout the body.
Watch the video below
The entire video is worth a watch. Sanchez goes into more detail about the endocannabinoid system and the advantages of cannabinoid treatment over standard chemotherapy alone.
In the video below, a lead researcher discusses their work. Watch this scientist explain how cannabis kills cancer cells.
Preclinical studies of cannabinoids have investigated the following:
Anti-tumor activity of cannabis
- Studies in mice and rats have shown that cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow.
- A study in mice showed that cannabinoids may protect against inflammation of the colon and may have potential in reducing the risk of colon cancer, and possibly in its treatment.
- A laboratory study of delta-9-THC in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) cells showed that it damaged or killed the cancer cells. The same study of delta-9-THC in mouse models of liver cancer showed that it had anti-tumor effects.
- A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells. Studies in mouse models of metastatic breast cancer showed that cannabinoids lessen the growth, number, and spread of tumors.
How Can Cannabis Help Cancer?
Cannabis contains at least 85 different types of cannabinoids, the active chemicals that create drug-like effects throughout the body. The impact of these cannabinoids in treating cancer symptoms as well as the side effects of cancer therapies is so favorable, cannabinoids are synthesized for legal, prescription use.
Cannabinoids that are known to benefit people living with cancer include CBC, CBD, CBDa, CBG, THC, and THCa. Cannabidiol (CBD) is known to relieve pain, lower inflammation, and decrease anxiety without the “high” of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
According to the U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute, other effects of cannabinoids include anti-inflammatory activity, blocking cell growth, preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors, fighting viruses, and relieving muscle spasms.
NCI also acknowledges that inhaled cannabis is attributed to improved mood and sense of well-being. Studies suggest cannabis can be used for symptom management in cancer patients by preventing vomiting, stimulating appetite, providing pain relief, and improving sleep as well as inhibiting the growth of certain types of tumors.
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