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Does cannabis cure cancer? Can the plant really ease symptoms of chemotherapy? Cancer and cancer-related symptoms are among the primary reasons patients seek medical cannabis recommendations. Yet, there is little human research that backs up the claims people make about the plant. However, a growing body of preclinical evidence suggests that cannabis has earned a place in the patients’ daily routines for a reason. Here’s everything you should know about cannabis and cancer treatment.
Over the past three decades, research on the anti-cancer properties of cannabis has slowly taken off. Efforts in several countries have made major discoveries in preclinical trials. Cell line and animal research have pinpointed four primary ways cannabis kills cancer cells. These include:
Preclinical evidence suggests that cannabis has an antiproliferative effect on cancer cells. If left to their own devices, cancer cells just continue to grow and divide.
One of the qualities of a useful anti-cancer medicine is the ability to halt the growth (proliferation) of malignant cells. As it turns out, compounds isolated from the cannabis plant have been found to slow the proliferation of various types of cancer, including breast, prostate, and lung cancers.
Metastasis is when cancer cells migrate from one part of the body to make a home on another. This process is why someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer may end up with cancer of the lung, brain, or elsewhere.
Metastatic cancers are among some of the most difficult to treat, and preventing metastasis is another major target for developers of anti-cancer drugs. As you might guess, research suggests that cannabis prevents cancer cells from spreading and adhering to new, healthy tissues.
A tumor has to eat. Tumors steal nutrients and oxygen from healthy parts of the body by developing new blood vessels. This phenomenon is known as angiogenesis and it is one of the mechanisms the tumor uses to grow.
In both laboratory and animal research, cannabis compounds have successfully halted the development of new blood vessels to tumor cells. This cuts of the tumors food supply and encourages death by starvation.
The final way cannabis has killed cancer cells both in laboratory and animal models is through suicide. That’s right, treatment with cannabis compounds caused cancer cells to kill themselves. The more technical term for this phenomenon is apoptosis, which is a natural capability of normal cells.
In a healthy person, cells that are damaged or aged can undergo a process of programmed cell death. But, for some reason, cancer cells have stopped responding to signals that would otherwise cause them to self-destruct.
Human cell line and animal research has found that cannabis compounds trigger apoptosis in cancer cells. This final blow actually kills the cell. Scientists have demonstrated that treatment with cannabis compounds can reduce tumor and cancer cells in rodents.
For more information on apoptosis and the primary ways cannabis kills cancer cells, read the full article here.
Cannabis treatments may be more beneficial for some types of cancer than others. Thus far, research on cannabis as a cancer treatment is mostly limited to cells and animals. Unfortunately, lab rats are not a great substitute for clinical studies in living humans. However, the results of early research on cannabis and cancer are surprisingly positive.
Here are some of the cancers that have been responsive to cannabis in early experiments:
Early studies in both rodents and human cell cultures have found that cannabis compounds halt the growth, spread, and migration of glioma cells. Glioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that begins in the brain and spinal cord.
Surprisingly, small human studies have shown signs of success with cannabis treatments. In a phase 2 clinical trial of 21 treatment-resistant glioblastoma patients, researchers treated participants with a pharmaceutical drug containing isolated cannabis extracts.
The drug in question contained both the primary psychoactive in the herb, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as well as cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a cannabis chemical which does not cause a psychotropic “high”. The patients were also given temozolomide, which is an oral chemotherapy drug.
In the trial, 83 percent of those treated with cannabis had a one-year survival rate. The survival rate was only 53 percent for those given a placebo. Another 2006 pilot study in glioblastoma found that THC delivered directly into the brain seemed marginally successful at prolonging life, though the study was far from conclusive.
For more information on cannabis and glioma, read the full article here.