With the popularity of marijuana clinicsand marijuana dispensaries on the rise, the medicinal properties of cannabis are by now better known and better received by the public and medical professionals alike. Marijuana treatment is most commonly applied to ailments such as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and to combat the side effects of chemotherapy. However, recent research has sought to conclude the medicinal benefits of cannabis for treating cancer, more specifically, the reduction of cancerous tumors.
The effect of medical Cannabis on brain tumors
A large portion of what is known about medical marijuana’s ability to combat cancerous cells derives from research on glioblastomamultiformeor “GBM” (a high grade glioma) and glioma tumor cells, which make up 80% of all of brain tumors. Scientists believe that due to brain cells having the highest concentration of cannabinoid (the active compounds in marijuana) receptors, brain tumors, which contain many of these receptors, may respond well to cannabinoids.
Researchers at Complutense Univeristy in Spain discovered that THC, one of medical marijuana’s cannabinoids, caused the deterioration of brain cancer cells in a process termed as “autophagy”. Autophagy is the process by which cells feed upon themselves. When mice with human tumors were given THC, the growth of the tumors slowed down. In addition, two human patients with aggressive brain tumors tested positive for signs of autophagy.
Another study conducted by St. George’s University of London claimed “dramatic reductions” in high-grade gliomawhen a combination of radiation and cannabinoids was administered. The tumors reduced in size in many of the cases. Dr. Wai Liu, one of the study’s lead authors proclaimed, “The results showed that the final effect was superior to the sum of the parts. Hopefully, these results will support calls for formal trials in humans to test these combinations.”
Medical marijuana’s effect on breast cancer cells
The University of East Anglia (UEA) in collaboration with the University of Complutense conducted additional studies of the effect of marijuana on mice that had samples of breast cancer cells. The study found that two cell receptors were responsive to what could be the anti-tumor properties of cannabis. UEA’s Dr. Peter McCormick confidently proclaimed that THC, “is known to act through a specific family of cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors. We show that these effects are mediated via the joint interaction of CB2 and GPR55—two members of the cannabinoid receptor family.”As a result of this study, McCormick is confident that THC “has anti-cancer properties” and that “By identifying the receptors involved we have provided an important step towards the future development of therapeutics that can take advantage of the interactions we have discovered to reduce tumor growth.”
Admissions from NIDA
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an institution of the United States’ federal government, has itself admitted that medical marijuana is capable of treating certain cancer cells. As a result of the growing interest and clinical studies of the effects of medical cannabis on cancerous tumors, NIDA admitted in an April 2015 publication that, “recent animal studies have shown that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one animal study suggests that extracts from whole-plant marijuana can shrink one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that these extracts, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation.”The fact that this admission comes from a federal government run institution is a definite step forward towards more studies that examine the effects of medical marijuana on tumor shrinkage.
It is clear that there is convincing evidence to suggest that medical cannabis has positive effects on the shrinking of tumors. However, in order to deem this research more conclusive, more clinical trials must be conducted.