Marijuana Fights Cancer and Helps Manage Side Effects, Researchers Find

Cristina Sanchez, a young biologist at Complutense University in Madrid, was studying cell metabolism when she noticed something peculiar. She had been screening brain cancer cells because they grow faster than normal cell lines and thus are useful for research purposes. But the cancer cells died each time they were exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.

Instead of gaining insight into how cells function, Sanchez had stumbled upon the anti-cancer properties of THC. In 1998, she reported in a European biochemistry journal that THC “induces apoptosis [cell death] in C6 glioma cells,” an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Subsequent peer-reviewed studies in several countries would show that THC and other marijuana-derived compounds, known as “cannabinoids,” are effective not only for cancer-symptom management (nausea, pain, loss of appetite, fatigue), they also confer a direct antitumoral effect.

A team of Spanish scientists led by Manuel Guzman conducted the first clinical trial assessing the antitumoral action of THC on human beings. Guzman administered pure THC via a catheter into the tumors of nine hospitalized patients with glioblastoma, who had failed to respond to standard brain-cancer therapies. The results were published in 2006 in the British Journal of Pharmacology: THC treatment was associated with significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in every test subject.

Around the same time, Harvard University scientists ++reported++[] that THC slows tumor growth in common lung cancer and “significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.” What’s more, like a heat-seeking missile, THC selectively targets and destroys tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. Conventional chemotherapy drugs, by contrast, are highly toxic; they indiscriminately damage the brain and body.

Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group / AP Photos

There is mounting evidence, according to a report in Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, that cannabinoids “represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis [the formation of new blood cells that feed a tumor] and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells.”

Dr. Sean McAllister, a scientist at the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, has been studying cannabinoid compounds for 10 years in a quest to develop new therapeutic interventions for various cancers. Backed by grants from the National Institute of Health (and with a license from the DEA), McAllister discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the marijuana plant, is a potent inhibitor of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and tumor growth.

In 2007, McAllister published a detailed account of how cannabidiol kills breast cancer cells and destroys malignant tumors by switching off expression of the ID-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell conductor.

The ID-1 gene is active during human embryonic development, after which it turns off and stays off. But in breast cancer and several other types of metastatic cancer, the ID-1 gene becomes active again, causing malignant cells to invade and metastasize. “Dozens of aggressive cancers express this gene,” explains McAllister. He postulates that CBD, by virtue of its ability to silence ID-1 expression, could be a breakthrough anti-cancer medication.

“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister, who is seeking support to conduct clinical trials with the marijuana compound on breast cancer patients.
McAllister’s lab also is analyzing how CBD works in combination with first-line chemotherapy agents. His research shows that cannabidiol, a potent antitumoral compound in its own right, acts synergistically with various anti-cancer pharmaceuticals, enhancing their impact while cutting the toxic dosage necessary for maximum effect.

Breast cancer cells killed by CBD on right compared to untreated breast cancer cells on left. (Courtesy Pacific Medical Center)

“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy.
Investigators at St. George’s University in London observed a similar pattern with THC, which magnified the effectiveness of conventional antileukemia therapies in preclinical studies. THC and cannabidiol both induce apoptosis in leukemic cell lines.

At the annual summer conference of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, held this year in Freiburg, Germany, 300 scientists from around the world discussed their latest findings, which are pointing the way toward novel treatment strategies for cancer and other degenerative diseases. Italian investigators described CBD as “the most efficacious inducer of apoptosis” in prostate cancer. Ditto for cannabidiol and colon cancer, according to British researchers at Lancaster University.

Within the medical science community, the discovery that cannabinoids have anti-tumoral properties is increasingly recognized as a seminal advancement in cancer therapeutics.

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  • 3

    Yes, THC maybe, or more likely than maybe, alleviates cancer symptoms and just maybe can help alleviate tumors themselves. However, without getting into much debate about marijuana and its effects on the human body, the small chance that any marijuana you self-administer actually alleviates possible future cancer is not justification for using marijuana.

    The only way anything like that becomes medically viable is if its clinically tested and manufactured for medical use. This can be equated to the consumption of red wine simply for "antioxidants." There are better, healthier ways to get the same result. And the same holds true here.

    That all being said, the research is really fascinating.

    EDIT: In case my point was lost, I just mean to say that if you use marijuana, don't attempt to rationalize it by saying you are doing it to alleviate possible future cancer. Just be open about your true intentions.

    no need to use it for cancer related purposes I use it for other problems.
    - triclebickle September 8, 2012, 12:02 am
    And it's good to recognize that. I don't, myself, but that's generally because I don't find it appealing and that I have an extremely obsessive personality. Anything moderately addictive becomes an insatiable fascination for me : ). So I just stay away from... anything possibly mildly addictive and at the same time even possibly deleterious.
    - Logos385 September 8, 2012, 12:19 am
    OCD seems like it would work out really well if you were growing it. it's a perfectionists playground.
    - triclebickle September 8, 2012, 1:57 am
    The amazing part is for the first time in modern medicin pot is being researched. In such a short time of real research, so many uses have already been found. I am not sure if I want manufactured pot. I prefer to keep it natural. You really can't improve on perfection.
    - johnecash September 9, 2012, 12:44 am
    I think the reason why people were afraid to explore much of the benefit of the herb because there is quite a bit of research hinting at negative effects as well. However, all of the research, both about any possible benefits or detriments, can't say anything about long-term effects yet. I'm really interested to see where this goes in 20-50 years, when long term studies will be concluded.
    - Logos385 September 11, 2012, 4:11 pm
    I could not agree more. Ps its also the best hangover helper on any market.
    - johnecash September 11, 2012, 4:13 pm
    Haha- my obsessions are generally not what you would call OCD. Not anything like that really. Just literally obsession... with whatever new hobby I pick up, etc. It lasts much longer and is much more focused/consuming than for most people. That's all! : ).
    - Logos385 September 11, 2012, 4:14 pm
  • 2

    *Sigh* another Cannabis thread.
    There is NO DENYING that Cannabis has negative effects. You see all these things thrown around about "no scientific evidence". But have you met some people who use it?

    But, when it comes to ANYTHING like this, I would suggest that it's fine in moderation. Going backwards a step - Smoking Cigarettes has negative effects too. But they all come from constant and regular usage. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you can expect to get something like lung cancer. However, there are always exceptions.

    With Alcohol - if you regularly drink 10 "Units" (1 UK Unit = 10ml of pure alcohol) a day, you will probably end up with Liver problems. But again, exceptions.

    With fast food - If you eat McDonalds every day of your life, you will probably end up with obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc. But not everyone. Exceptions!

    All of these things; smoking, alcohol, fast food, are potentially dangerous if you "abuse" them and have them ALL the time. However, if you enjoy them from time to time, they will not affect you (and some will have benefits).

    I would suggest that the same thing happens with Cannabis - if you were to smoke it from time to time, you'd enjoy it and have no issues with it at all. However, when you smoke it every day of your life, you will end up with medical illness (apart from those exceptional people).

    I am not fully aware of the benefits of Cannabis (TL;DR mostly), but they probably will have health benefits, but only when you don't outdo those benefits with the negative effects. Talking of benefits, I would also suggest that Alcohol and Smoking have positive effects too - the alcohol and whatever ends up in your blood from smoking probably kill off some microbes. Fast food, i'm not so sure, but it's a tasty treat once in a while :)

    It's probably good in moderation.

    Just wondering, what medical illness do you get from smoking it too much? What are the negative aspects of it? Please tell me about the people you have met who use it. Thanks for the post.
    - johnecash September 9, 2012, 12:45 am
    Well, mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia (Wikipedia). Basically you have mental breakdowns, get scared of everyone and everything.

    Another one (can't remember the name) is where, say you see some people talking to eachother in the street, you are convinced that they are saying all this negative shit about you (ie. you think they're being nasty about you), which can obviously incur hideous amounts of rage.

    Generally, I'd stay away from using it too much.
    - SkinnyBill September 9, 2012, 4:51 pm
    On point and fact more or less to back it up. You are correct. As the old saying goes the diffrence between medicin and poison is the dosage. Though I would have to say due to it probation pot has not had a true long term study to prove any side effects other than the intended ones. Do not forget, no one has ever died to to pot, the same can not be said about fast foot or beer.
    - johnecash September 9, 2012, 11:46 pm
    Fast foot? xD

    Well, they most likely have, but there's so much pro-weed propaganda these days, you probably haven't heard of it.
    - SkinnyBill September 10, 2012, 12:26 pm
    Can you site any specific propaganda? I am not familiar with it am would like to know more. Ps don't you just love fast foot places!
    - johnecash September 10, 2012, 1:09 pm
    Not anywhere specific, but I'm referring to how most of the internet is just an army of people saying "WEED IS GOOD FOR YOU", and so most of the internet only contains supportive evidence.

    It's like how in Mac vs PC arguments, people always say good things about what they support and bad things against the other. They carefully word things and carefully pick facts to make it sound good.
    - SkinnyBill September 10, 2012, 2:17 pm
    There are a lot of people on the net that say a lot of things that make no sense, ill give you that. But I do not think that the Mac vs PC argument is applicable due to the fact that the majority of that debate is based off of opinion and personal preference.
    One reason you see a lot of pro weeds articles these days is there is more scientific research being done on it than any time during the history of modern science.
    - johnecash September 10, 2012, 5:17 pm
    Same as anything. But still, people will only report on the good parts. If people said "Oh yeah, weed is good for you, but it also can cause long term mental illness", theres no chance in hell people would support it, and there is DEFINITELY no chance it would be legalised.
    - SkinnyBill September 11, 2012, 3:46 pm
    Smoking kills yet it's still legal. Our health should never be left up to the government.
    - johnecash September 11, 2012, 4:14 pm
  • 2

    Also, this:

    Interesting addition alongside the literature above. There are a ton of studies (scientific and demographic) on this subject. I would suggest people do some digging on scholarly sites (even just Google Scholar) for more info... there is a surprising amount of really, really interesting research on the subject. Both suggesting positive and negative effects.

    It's amazing what we find when allowed to work.
    - johnecash September 12, 2012, 8:09 pm
  • 1

    I agree 100% with what was said in this thread +3

    • Kodi93
    • September 8, 2012, 9:36 pm
    It's the new wonder drug. . . And it's all natural.
    - johnecash September 9, 2012, 12:46 am
    I'll take my medication on a spoon please
    - Kodi93 September 9, 2012, 1:06 am
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