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So far there have been intriguing results from lab experiments with prostate, breast, lung cancer, skin, bone and pancreatic cancers, glioma brain tumours and lymphoma. Most research has been focused on THC, which occurs naturally in cannabis plants, but researchers have found that different cannabinoids seem to work better or worse different types of cancer cells. Lab experiments have shown promising results with THC on brain tumour and prostate cancer cells, while CBD seems to work well on breast cancer cells.
This makes it hard to get them deep into a tumour, or even just deliver them into the bloodstream in consistently high enough doses to have an effect. There are hundreds of exciting potential cancer drugs being developed and tested in university, charity and industry labs all over the world — cannabinoids are merely a small part of a much larger picture. Most of these compounds will never make it into the clinic to treat patients for a huge range of reasons including toxicity, lack of effectiveness, unacceptable side effects, or difficulty of delivering the drug to tumours.
If cannabinoids are ever to get into clinical use, they need to overcome these hurdles and prove they have benefits over existing cancer treatments.
But can they stop the disease from developing? Or could they play a role in causing cancer? In experiments with mice, animals given very high doses of purified THC seemed to have a lower risk of developing cancer, and there has been some research suggesting that endocannabinoids cannabinoids produced by the body can suppress tumour growth.
This is mainly because most people who use cannabis smoke it mixed with tobacco, a substance that definitely does cause cancer. In some parts of the world — including the Netherlands — medical use of marijuana has been legalised for palliative use relieving pain and symptoms , including cancer pain. But one of the problems of using herbal cannabis is about dosage — smoking it or taking it in the form of tea often provides a variable dose, which may make it difficult for patients to monitor their intake.
So researchers are turning to alternative dosing methods, such as mouth sprays, which deliver a reliable and regulated dose. We want to see safe, reliable and effective treatments become available for patients as quickly as possible. We receive no government funding for our research, and it is all paid for by the generosity of the public. This is obviously not a bottomless purse, and we do not have financial reserves to draw on.
Because of this limitation, we can only fund the very best research proposals that come to us that will bring benefits to people with cancer. Our funding committees have previously received other applications from researchers who want to investigate cannabinoids that have failed to reach our high standards for funding. If we receive future proposals that do meet these stringent requirements, then there is no reason why they would not be funded — assuming we have the money available to do so.
But whole plants or other organisms are a complex mix of hundreds of chemicals not all of which may be beneficial and contains low or variable levels of active ingredients. This makes it difficult to give accurate doses and runs the risk of toxic side effects. Foxgloves — a source of medically useful chemicals. These drugs are now used to treat many thousands of people around the world with heart failure and other cardiac problems.
But the entire plant itself is highly toxic, and eating just a small amount can kill. But this naturally-occurring chemical causes severe stomach irritation, which led to the German company Bayer developing an alternative version — acetylsalicylic acid — which was kinder to the tummy. Aspirin is now arguably one of the most successful drugs of all time, and is still being investigated for its potential in preventing or even treating cancer. As we said above, there is no good evidence that natural cannabinoids, at the doses present in simple cannabis preparations, can treat cancer in patients.
There is a strong and persistent presence on the internet arguing that cannabis can cure cancer. Despite what the supporters of these sources may claim, videos and stories are not scientific evidence for the effectiveness of any cancer treatment. We know nothing about their medical diagnosis, stage of disease or outlook. People who make these bold claims for cannabis only pick their best cases, without presenting the full picture.
This highlights the importance of publishing data from scientifically rigorous lab research and clinical trials. Firstly because conducting proper clinical studies enables researchers to prove that a prospective cancer treatment is safe and effective. And secondly because publishing this data allows doctors around the world to judge for themselves and use it for the benefit of their patients. Internet anecdotes and videos prove nothing and benefit no-one — we need reliable, scientific research, which as discussed above is exactly what is going on.
Not only to the thousands of our scientists, doctors and nurses who are working as hard as they can to find more effective treatments for the complex set of challenging diseases we call cancer, but also the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and beyond who support this life-saving work through generous donations of money, energy and time.
Our aim is to beat cancer, and we believe that the best way to do this through rigorous scientific research aimed at understanding cancer on a biological level and working out how to prevent, detect and treat it more effectively. As a research-based organisation, we want to see reliable scientific evidence to support claims made about any cancer treatment, be it conventional or alternative.
This is vital because lives are at stake. After scientists understood that the BCR-ABL hybrid gene was the cause of a certain type of leukaemia it allowed them to develop pharmacological ways to specifically counteract it — by inhibiting the signals inside the cancer cell used to grow and divide. The drug that was born to much fanfare and arguably revolutionised drug development. Continued improvements in the understanding of the mechanisms inside cells that are hijacked by cancer have helped to improve the way that compounds are designed and then tested clinically.
Those that are able to restore the normal function of the signalling pathways disrupted by cancer are an attractive target for drug development. At least three major pharmaceutical players are in a fight to negate the cancer-supporting action of AKT , for example. This protein kinase — a key regulator of cell function — is a central player in determining cell proliferation and growth, and is intimately linked with a number of other cell communications systems that all work in unison to support a cancer developing.
Its level is over-expressed in a number of cancers, and is linked to a poorer prognosis. Consequently, therapeutic interventions to counteract its effects are particularly attractive and potentially lucrative. It was however, never like this. Before the mystery of cancer was opened up, drug discovery was empirical in nature.
Through antiquity, a range of flora were said to cure ailments and, using these anecdotes as guides, active ingredients have been extracted, purified and improved. This has been successful, and a number of drugs now form normal members of the pharmacopeia, including aspirin, which was isolated from the white willow, and less familiar anti-cancer drugs such as etoposide, irinotecan and taxol, which were derived from mayapples, camptotheca trees and Pacific yews.
Then there is the cannabis plant. The putative medicinal property of cannabis has been known for some time; indeed, history records show they were used to ease symptoms of gout, malaria and even childbirth.
However, the fundamental issue with using cannabis in its whole form as a medicine is its psychoactive properties, so it would make sense to identify the important anti-cancer parts and remove the psychoactive components. However, unlike the mayapple and Pacific yew, their development has been seriously curtailed. Drugs with chequered pasts have found redemption; take the thalidomide story. This drug was infamously linked to babies born with deformations; however, serendipitous observations of improvements in leprosy in a patient taking thalidomide in led to the discovery that it also had important effects on the immune system.
Refinements to the chemistry of the drug were made and the result was a new family of drugs that are valuable tools in anti-cancer research and treatment. The story emphasises the point that medicinal potential of drugs should be seen objectively and guided scientifically. Cannabinoids possess anti-cancer properties, which they achieve through their fundamental interactions with proteins embedded in the signalling pathways in cells that are now seen as particularly interesting for research.
In addition to this direct anti-cancer action, cannabinoids also have the capacity to disrupt the ability of cancer to feed itself by a process called angiogenesis as well as being able to modulate the immune system to make it more hostile towards cancer. Indeed, we recently showed that the cancer-killing property of radiotherapy was dramatically enhanced when cannabinoids were used in combination with this treatment — certain forms of brain cancer were reduced to sizes that were difficult to detect.
Taken together, all of these features show a profile with great anti-cancer potential. However slow things have been, a sea-change has been occurring; there is a palpable sense that legislators are becoming open to the scientific evidence that suggests cannabinoids may possess medicinal quality.
Clinical trials using various forms of cannabinoids are now taking place in a number of countries, and we all await the results of these studies. I hope to be able to change the answer that I give to patients who contact me to ask: My frustrating answer has always been it is too early to say, as promising laboratory data has not yet been confirmed by objective clinical studies.
Cannabis and Cancer
Learn how marijuana and drugs derived from the marijuana plant can affect plants can have varying amounts of these and other active compounds. There are no studies in people of the effects of marijuana oil or hemp oil. Some animal studies also suggest certain cannabinoids may slow growth and. Hemp Can Fight Cancer, Too, Reveal Scientists in New Cannabis Study. Not all marijuana-derived drugs need to get you high. that hemp has anti-cancer properties that can slow down the spread as well as prior research, show that KY-hemp slows ovarian cancer Some scientists refuse to accept it. Cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds have long been compounds that show good potential for cancer-fighting properties. pre-clinical results in the use of cannabinoids as an anti-cancer treatment. Our scientists are studying a growing library of different cannabinoid compounds and testing the.