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2015-01-12

Cannabis for Cancer Therapy

Well, here's a topic that's receiving so much more attention as medical marijuana becomes more widely acceptable and numerous States in the US have legalized recreational use (about time, IMO).

This new study suggests that cannabinoids may be useful as anticancer agents (just to be clear, this is not the first study to show this). According to the authors of this study, “Numerous reports highlighting potent activity in vitro and in in vivo models have established it as a potential anticancer therapeutic agent in a number of cancer types."

They highlight a number of ways cannabinoids do this:
  • induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death)
  • autophagy (digesting itself)
  • antiangiogenesis (preventing formation of blood vessels, which cancers need to growth and survive)
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-migratory
While the authors note that the psychoactive nature of THC (the cannabinoid responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana use) has increased the controversy in consideration of cancer treatment, a pilot trial of its therapeutic use in patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an advanced type of glioma, showed feasibility without any overt psychoactive effects.

THC demonstrates analgesic, anti-emetic, and anti-inflammatory properties, whereas CBD (the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid) possesses anti-psychotic, anti-seizure, and anti-anxiety properties. Additionally, CBD seems to work similarly to THC in terms of anti-tumor effects, except it may not exert effects through receptor activation as frequently as THC, and it does not cause psychoactive effects.

Here's a summary:
  • Results found that use of CBD and THC in pure form (>96% purity) and in their whole-plant forms (60% to 72% of each cannabinoid) decreased the number of high grade glioma cells in a dose-dependent manner.
  • Analysis of the cells showed that there were no changes made to cell DNA, which points to the mechanism of action being one of prevention of cell growth and proliferation. The effect was greater for GBM cells than for glioblastoma astrocytoma cells.
  • Rather than causing apoptosis, the cannabinoids seemed to inhibit cell growth and proliferation via autophagy.
  • The combination of CBD and THC seemed to have even greater effects (for glioblastoma astrocytoma more than for glioblastoma multiforme), although these results were not statistically significant.
  • CBD and THC appeared to control cytostasis through mechanisms such as modification of phosphorylation patterns in cell signaling pathways which lead to increased cell growth and proliferation, most significantly through MAPK pathways after use of pure CBD or THC for 4 hours, but also through ERK pathways for glioblastoma multiforme cells (and glioblastoma astrocytoma cells, when CBD was used alone), with potential for modulation through the AKT pathway. At high doses, cannabinoids decreased AKT and and ERK pathway activation, and even more significantly when radiation was used in conjunction.
  • Incubation in the combination of CBD and THC cannabinoids for 4 hours prior to radiation made the cells more sensitive to destruction by radiation. Further, 5 hours after radiation, high grade glioma cells pre-treated with cannabinoids had more DNA damage than cells that had been treated with radiation alone (a positive result, since the point of radiation treatment is to damage the DNA of malignant cells in order to cause cell death).

While this was all cell culture results, the in-vivo portion of the study showed similar results. The researchers found that radiation alone had no effect on glioma growth in mice with the tumours, while combined THC+CBD inhibited progression, and THC+CBD with radiation inhibited progression the most.

In conclusion, according to the researchers, “…[T]hese data add further support to the concept that cannabinoids both alone and in combination with each other, possess anticancer properties.”

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Source: The Combination of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Enhances the Anticancer Effects of Radiation in an Orthotopic Murine Glioma Model

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