Cannabis has been included as part of the treatment for cancer for a few decades now. The plant is gaining unprecedented momentum within the global context of western medicine.
Many of cannabis’ therapeutic properties have been proven, and a number of physicians already include it in their practice. However, there remains a part of society that is skeptical of the plant’s potential in medical treatment. That’s why new scientific studies are truly valuable to confirm cannabis’ role in any type of medical context. In this case, a group of scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology found yet another proof of cannabis’ potential against cancer growths.
The researchers tested multiple cannabis extracts on different groups of cancer cells. 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 knowledge to the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis compounds in the treatment of cancer.
Cannabis use in Modern Medicine
The role of cannabis in medicine is not a new thing. In fact, the therapeutic properties of cannabis were discovered by humans thousands of years ago.
Today, cannabis is used worldwide within the context of mainstream medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments that go from improving pain and spasticity related to multiple sclerosis, reducing symptoms associated with glaucoma, dealing with anxiety and depression derived from PTSD, and improving HIV/AIDS-related pain.
Cannabis research is allowing us to achieve a broader understanding of how the plant can be used to treat different conditions and improve our overall quality of life. But we’re still far from discovering just exactly what it can and cannot do. That’s why studies like this are opening up the possibilities this plant has to offer humankind.
Cannabis in Cancer Treatment
The cannabis plant has also received a lot of attention as a palliative treatment in cancer patients. Palliative treatment refers to the kind of medicine used to deal with symptoms associated with certain illnesses, which do not necessarily have an effect on the disease’s root cause.
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, reduce depression symptoms, 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 strong evidence of the efficacy of cannabis compounds in the fight against cancer.
Still, cannabis has not yet been universally recognized as an antineoplastic (an agent that reduces the formation of tumors), within the context of traditional Western medicine.
Cannabis Extracts as Antitumor 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.
To better understand its findings, we must first look at some basic concepts that make up cannabis science.
Cannabis is a plant that is composed of over 500 different chemical compounds, of which at least 144 are called cannabinoids. Actually, the number of cannabinoids found in cannabis increases yearly, as new ones are discovered by scientists. Cannabinoids are the elements responsible for producing cannabis’ therapeutic effects in the human body, as they have the capacity to interact with the endocannabinoid system — a large and complex system of neurotransmitters responsible for regulating many basic bodily and cognitive functions like appetite, mood, memory, pain, inflammation, and more. Our body produces its own set of cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids), which interact with this system to mediate balance in our bodies.
Cannabinoids can also be found in the cannabis plant. These are called phytocannabinoids. The two most famous phytocannabinoids are THC, which is responsible for producing marijuana’s “high” effect, and CBD, the one that has been found to have the highest amount of therapeutic effects, without generating a “high.” 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.
Multiple in-vitro and in-vivo studies have been conducted so far, that prove 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 amazing new 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 dealing with cancer and 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 a specific medicine against cancer growth.