By Amie Gravell
Our bodies have cannabinoid receptors which can be activated in three ways by endocannabinoids: those produced by our bodies, synthetic cannabinoids, or plant cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or cannabichromene (CBC). One effective way to activate our cannabinoid system—that most of us are familiar with—is by using cannabis, the plant source of cannabinoids.
In the article “The Brain’s Own Marijuana” published in Scientific American, it is explained how marijuana affects us by stimulating receptors for compounds our bodies are able to produce called endocannabinoids. Our endocannabinoids help to regulate pain, anxiety, hunger, and vomiting. The activation of our cannabinoid receptors is also quickly becoming an area of research for those trying to cure and ease the pain of cancer.
Most researchers have focused on the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl, henceforth referred to as CB1 and CB2.
There has been a plethora of research done in the field of endocannabinoids and cancer. Compounds in marijuana and the activation of the cannabinoid receptors has been shown to be effective in both limiting the growth of, and sometimes eradicating tumors. Researchers are also looking into side benefits such as the relief of pain caused by cancer, and relief of the side effects caused during cancer treatment.
There is a a startling amount of evidence that compounds found naturally in marijuana may both slow the growth of tumors by either suppressing nerve growth, suppressing the genetics of cancerous cells, and in some cases, even inducing the death of cancer cells. There is also research that confirms that the compounds in marijuana can relieve physical pain and nausea caused by cancer and cancer treatment. Researchers have also looked into the possibilities of marijuana causing cancer.
Granny Storm Crow compiles a list of marijuana related research each year and this provides a wealth of information that varies from scientific abstracts and articles to news reports on the scientific articles, so her list is easy to understand by anyone regardless of scientific background. All the research for this article was found through Granny Storm Crow’s list. View it at <www.greenpassion.org/index.php?/topic/26942-grannys-mmj-list-january-2011/>
Italian researchers report that CB1 (anandamide) and CB2 (2-arachidonoyl) inhibit the nerve growth factor (NGF) induced proliferation of human breast cancer cells through suppression of the nerve growth Trk receptors. The endocannabinoids also inhibit PRLr levels and result in an inhibition of the proliferation of other PRL responsive cells, such as prostate cancer cells. However, the results also showed that human breast cancer cells and prostate cancer cells have CB1-like cannabinoid receptors of their own, which might slow the inhibition of cell proliferation from what it might have been if the cancer cells did not show the CB1-like receptor. Further research may confirm this or find a way to block the cancer cell’s receptor to make the treatment even more effective.
An article from the BBC reported that California medical researchers looking to halt the spread of aggressive tumors found that CBD works to block the activity of a gene called Id-1, which is believed to be responsible for the aggressive spread of cancer cells away from the original tumor site, a process called metastasis. Past work known to the researchers has shown CBD to be effective in halting the growth of aggressive brain cancers, and the researchers hinted at new research showing CBD to be as effective on breast cancer cells.
Some of the same Italian researchers who worked on the inhibition of NGF (nerve growth factor) and proliferation of cancer cells study mentioned above, also researched just the effects of cannabis extracts vs. pure cannabinoids. They tested five natural compounds found in cannabis (cannabidiol, cannabigerol, cannabichromene, cannabidiol acid and THC acid), and found that of the compounds tested, CBD was the most potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth. In addition to inhibiting cancer growth, the researchers found that the affects of CBDs on cancer cells are significantly less potent in non-cancerous cells.
One of the most exciting studies done since 1974 was when Spanish researchers in 2000 found that, in culture with isolated neural cells, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) induces cell death (apoptosis) in transformed neural cells. They continued their study on live rats and found that cannabinoid treatment did not produce any substantial neurotoxic effect. The Spanish researchers induced malignant tumors in rats and treated them with THC, the treatment was ineffective in three rats, while nine rats lived significantly longer than the control rats, while three other rats on the THC treatment had their tumors eradicated. In addition to survival rates, the growth of the rat’s tumors were significantly suppressed. To be sure that the cannabinoid treatment was not neurotoxic, the researchers did a control study on non-cancerous rats, and found no adverse neural affects of the THC. Raymond Cushing reported, in an AlterNet article, that this is the first time since 1974 that live animals with tumors have been injected with THC, and that other research is conducted on petri dishes in culture.
In addition to findings that show activation of the endocannabinoid system to be beneficial in fighting cancer, researchers have shown that the deactivation of the endocannabinoid system is detrimental in the fight against cancer. Researchers in Nashville found that when CB1 receptors were blocked, intestinal tumor growth actually accelerated.
The first research into cannabis compounds and the inhibition of tumor growth came out in 1974, when researchers in Virginia treated both lung cancer and leukemia individually with delta-9-THC, delta-8-THC, CBD, and CBN (cannabinol). Researchers found that tumor growth was inhibited by some of the compounds and that the inhibition was dose dependent. Sadly, even after these findings, government funding to public research involving marijuana was cut, and the effects of THC and the other compounds in marijuana on cancer was set back by almost 25 years.
When it comes to addressing the pain caused by cancer, Japanese researchers studied the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors as a treatment for pain caused by bone cancer. When compared with pain caused by inflammation, pain caused by bone cancer is shown to be resistant to morphine. The researchers found that administered CB1 activation (not activated by the body naturally) reduced pain related behaviours in mice with bone cancer. The researchers first studied pain behaviours exhibited by mice infected with bone cancer to correlate the affects of CB1 and CB2 activation. The reduced pain behaviours in CB1 and 2 activated mice included behaviours related to spontaneous pain, and pain caused by movement.
A study in 1974, at the Welsh National School of Medicine, looked at patients undergoing radiation therapy to treat carcinoma of the bronchus, which was reportedly often associated with changes in mood, such as depression and anxiety. These reports, as well as those of diminished appetite and weakness have been confirmed by time and are recognized now as general side effects of radiation therapy. Unlike the scientists in Virginia the same year, these researchers did not use cannabinoids as a treatment for cancer, instead, they used cannabinoids as a treatment for the effects of cancer treatment.
The study used synthetic THC, given orally. While one patient did experience a floating, detached sensation that he found unpleasant, the scientists acknowledged that the man was a very devout Presbyterian and associated the feelings with intoxication, which he found distasteful. The feelings diminished with continued administrations of the drug. The rest of the patients reported that they “felt better” and rated their general feelings on a scale which confirmed the initial reports. The physician in charge of the patients formed the opinion that “management of restless, unhappy patients was made easier by the drug therapy.” No patient consumed excessive amounts of codeine, but those that did feel a need for it (and it was freely available) expressed that they were free of pain upon receiving the synthetic THC. The researchers found no instances of adverse affects on patients aside from the one man who did not like the feeling of intoxication.
Marijuana and cancer have been linked in people’s minds for decades, but possibly for the wrong reasons. Ever since studies at Berkley in the 1970s, a large part of the population has believed that marijuana was one and a half times more carcinogenic than tobacco. Two aspects of the flawed research that led to this assumption are that the study was done on marijuana leaves (which are not smoked), and that marijuana users do not smoke nearly as much as cigarette smokers do.
Drinking tea can be said to cause oral cancer, but it isn’t the tea that causes the cells to become cancerous, it’s the heat of the boiling water we pour in our tea, and whether or not we let it cool before we drink it. Smoking marijuana has been linked to oral and throat cancer, but only so far as hot smoke can account for. That puts you at about the same risk for cancer as an avid tea or coffee drinker who likes their beverage piping hot. While the act of smoking has the potential to cause cancer, lung cancer caused by smoking, is almost wholly caused by cigarettes, not marijuana. And no study has ever found marijuana edible products to lead to any kind of cancer.
Despite cannabinoids being found to be beneficial in the fight against cancer, the research done is with isolated compounds; which are usually synthetic, that are applied to tumors directly. Though we can probably all agree that natural is best, gaining sufficient amounts of CBD to combat cancer though ingestion or inhalation is probably impossible. But do look forward to more research into curing cancer with compounds found in marijuana, results like those found already can’t be ignored for long by a conscious civilization that is dying for a cure.