With or without CBD, cannabis may someday do more for cancer patients than relieve pain and nausea. New research suggests THC may be lethal to tumors themselves.
Biochemists Guillermo Velasco and Manuel Guzman of Complutense University in Madrid have spent more than a decade establishing in lab-dish and animal tests that THC can kill cancer of the brain, skin and pancreas.
THC ignites programmed suicide in some cancerous cells, the researchers reported in 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The team’s previous work showed that THC sabotages the process by which a tumor hastily forms a netting of blood vessels to nourish itself, and also keeps cancer cells from moving around.
THC achieves this wizardry by binding to protein receptors on a cancerous cell’s surface. Once attached, the THC induces the cell to make a fatty substance called ceramide, which prompts the cell to start devouring itself. “We see programmed cell death,” Velasco says. What’s more, noncancerous cells don’t make ceramide when they come into contact with THC. The healthy cells don’t die.
Many compounds kill cancer in a test tube and even in animals, but most prove useless because they cause side effects or just don’t work in people. The Madrid team is now seeking funding to test whether cannabis derivatives can kill tumors in cancer patients. In an early trial of nine brain cancer patients whose disease had worsened despite standard therapy, the scientists found that THC injections into tumors were safe to give.
Early reports from other research groups suggest that THC also fights breast cancer and leukemia. “I think the cancer research is extremely promising,” Russo says. “Heretofore, the model for cancer was to use an agent that’s extremely toxic to kill the cancer before it kills you. With cannabinoids, we have an opportunity to use agents that are selectively toxic to cancer cells.”
Not just a high. By- Seppa, Nathan, Science News, 00368423, 6_19_2010, Vol. 177, Issue 13