A group of scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology say they have found evidence of cannabis’ potential to slow or stop cancer growth.
The researchers tested multiple cannabis extracts on different groups of cancer cells in vitro, meaning not in live animal or human models. They found that several compounds extracted from the cannabis plant show efficacy in stopping the survival and reproduction of cancerous cells, as well as inducing cell death.
This discovery supports previous studies on the subject and adds more input to our understanding of the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis compounds in the treatment of cancer.
Cannabis in cancer treatment
The cannabis plant has received a lot of attention as a palliative therapy for cancer patients. The term palliative care refers to a field of medicine focused on improving quality of life in patients with chronic and often terminal diseases.
In the case of cancer, cannabis has been proven to be an especially effective palliative in dealing with chemotherapy-associated symptoms like nausea and vomiting. It has also been praised for its ability to restore a patient’s appetite and help manage pain.
However, new research is advancing our understanding of the interactions between certain cannabis compounds and cancer growth. The first study to ever analyze the interaction of cannabis as an anti-cancerogenous agent was released in 1975.
Since then, many studies have found evidence of the efficacy of cannabis compounds in the fight against cancer in laboratory models.
Cannabis extracts as anti-tumor agents
The study conducted by the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research of the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel found remarkable results that advance our understanding of cannabis’ effects on cancer cells.
Cannabis is composed of over 500 chemical compounds, of which at least 144 are called cannabinoids, which directly interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists in all vertebrates and helps regulate crucial functions such as sleep, pain, and appetite. The human body produces its own cannabinoids, which modulate and activate its various functions, but as its name suggests, the endocannabinoid system can also be modulated and activated by cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Because the entire system was only discovered in the past 30 years, scientists still have much to learn about the myriad ways cannabis affects the human body.
However, scientists have found many other cannabinoids to have medicinal capacities, and especially, they found that the combination of different cannabinoids acting together can have enhanced or reduced properties for treating specific illnesses.
That’s why the team at the Technion, the largest institute of technology in Israel, decided to take 12 different cannabis extracts, each containing different cannabinoids mixes, and apply them to 12 different cancer cell lines from various tumor origins.
What they found was that “specific cannabis extracts impaired the survival and proliferation of cancer cell lines as well as induced apoptosis (cancer cell death).”
The research added evidence to the efficacy of combining different cannabinoid combinations to achieve different medical results. The team applied pure THC to the same cancer cells to which they later applied a combination of cannabinoids. The two tests affected the cancer cells differently depending on the cannabinoid combination, even at similar levels of THC.
Bringing cannabis and cancer research forward
Multiple in-vitro and in-vivo studies have been conducted so far that provide evidence of the positive effects of cannabinoids in combating cancer cell growth and inducing their death through a process called apoptosis. A 2009 study demonstrated that THC inhibits the growth of certain brain cancer cells. A 2013 study showed how CBD can also affect these cells. In 2015, cannabinoids were also shown effective in inducing skin cancer cell death, following a 2011 study that showed similar results in breast cancer.
However, previous studies focused on THC and CBD interactions with cancer cells. The unique discovery behind the Technion’s new study, reveals that unique cannabinoid combinations achieve different antitumor results on different types of cancer.
The team’s efforts were also focused on mapping exactly how these combinations interact and how they can be used to treat specific types of cancer, which makes this study an important step into the understanding of how cannabis can be used to fight cancer and the development of efficient cancer treatments.The last decade has seen more advancements in cannabis research than any that preceded it, and the plant is steadily making its way into more and more doctors’ offices.
Although many oncologists today recommend medical marijuana as an aid in cancer treatment, neither the plant nor its subproducts are considered to be a main remedy against cancer growth so far. It is, however, strongly supported by many physicians as a useful ally in treating cancer-related issues. Studies have found cannabis to have no negative interactions with chemotherapy treatment, but further testing is needed to develop positive methods to use cannabis as a specific medicine against cancer growth.
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