Thursday, 16 July 2009

Can Cannabis Help Fight Cancer?

Now that Keele University in the UK has dispelled the myth of cannabis being a major cause of mental health problems, I got to wondering about what cannabis might have on offer to science. Medical marijuana aside, I had often seen claims of cannabis being used for treating cancer and other physical conditions. I was just as sceptical of these claims as I was of cannabis creating a lost generation or heavy users of a new, more potent strain growing a penis on their elbow. The problem to me was that both sides were equally as nutty as each other and there was no middle ground. In fact, I still find it hard to grasp that rising cannabis use has not increased incidents of mental disorders. But facts are facts, regardless of personal opinion. Maybe I was wrong? Going back over some of the claims that cannabis can help with cancer research, I found this recent article(below). If they are right, we have lost decades of research through unnecessary restrictions brought on by government drug paranoia. What strikes me most though is that these reports are rarely in the mainstream media. As usual, good news about illicit drugs don’t make headlines. Can anyone help shed some light on the subject for me?
Marijuana May Fight Brain Tumours COSMOS April 2009 WASHINGTON: The main chemical in marijuana kills cancerous brain cells, offering hope for future anti-cancer therapies, say Spanish scientists. A team led by Guillermo Velasco of Complutense University in Madrid, found that the active component of marijuana – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – kills tumour cells through a process called autophagy. This is the process that occurs when a cell self-destructs by digesting itself. The research, which appears in the April edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrates that THC and related cannabinoids appear to be "a new family of potential anti-tumoral agents", the authors write. Injecting THC In the study the scientists conducted most of their research on mice, in which the growth of cancer was stimulated. But the researchers also looked at two patients suffering from a highly aggressive form of brain cancer who were enrolled in a clinical trial. A mixture of THC in saline solution and injected it into each patient's tumour for 26 or 30 days, then the researchers took samples of the brain tumours. By analysing the tumours using electron microscopy, the researchers discovered that the cancer cells had been killed off while the normal cells stayed intact. "Although these studies were only conducted in specimens from two patients," the researchers said, "they are in line with the preclinical evidence shown [in mice] and suggest that cannabinoid administration might also trigger autophagy-mediated cell death in human tumors." Anti-Cancer Therapies There have been previous studies that found cannabinoids curbed the growth of several types of tumours in rats and mice, but the mechanism by which is worked has been obscure until now. Autophagy has a dual role in cancer: in some cases it promotes cancer cell survival and in other cases it inhibits cancer cell survival. This study identified the signalling route by which autophagy is activated for cell death. The authors suggest that the study may prove useful in the development of future anti-cancer therapies based on THC or in the activation of the process that results in autophagy.
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