Jamie Morton, the NZ Herald’s science reporter, posed the question:
“Does cannabis cure cancer?”
This question has received a lot of media attention lately. But it is scientific evidence that is needed. Associate Professor Michelle Glass, University of Auckland, and her team just received a grant to get to the bottom of this controversial issue. They have the unique advantage of access to human brain cancer cells for the study.
Professor Grant says preliminary studies examining the link between cannabis as a possible cure for cancer has been interesting, but there is not much to draw from. A lot of claims are made in the public sphere, but science does not always support these claims. Animal studies do not necessarily translate to the more complex human models.
Preliminary cell-based data is not always on human cell lines and is often based on cancer models that don’t translate to humans. She is skeptical of what she has seen, and doesn’t think cannabis is the answer per se.
The THC compound of cannabis targets the CB1 receptor in the brain and has been under investigation for many years as a possible therapeutic target. Today there are many other compounds which activate or inhibit this receptor.
The question remains whether a cannabinoid could complement existing treatment. Mixed outcomes were found on studies focusing on the cannabinoid ligands, targeting cannabinoid receptors in cancer cells. Some reports show death of cancer cells while others report proliferation.
Glass and her colleagues, Dr Scott Graham and Dr Graeme Finlay aim to look into the possibility that the number of CB1 receptors plays a role in the signal produced by the actual activation of the receptors and if this is beneficial or not.
She explains that her research will examine the signaling pathways and how they react when the receptors are activated. The two-year study will be carried out using human brain cancer cells obtained from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre.
Glass feels that finding an answer is very important, given that the Internet is being crowded with websites dubiously touting cannabis as a solution. She doesn’t want people to have false hope, but equally believes that if there are cases in which targeting this receptor could be useful, the knowledge will be valuable.
The Auckland Medical Research Foundation gave the $157,000 grant for the study.
Executive director of the foundation, Kim Williams said that more research is the only way we can ensure genuine advances in medicine and positive outcomes for patients.
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Does cannabis cure cancer? Another study shows promising results
In a paper recently published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapies, researchers from St. George’s University of London outlined the “dramatic reductions” they observed in high-grade glioma masses (a deadly form of brain cancer). They used a combination of radiation and two cannabis compounds, or cannabinoids with great success. In many cases the tumors shrunk to a tenth of those in a control group.
Dr. Wai Liu, one of the study’s lead authors says this shows that cannabis could play a role in the treatment of one of the most aggressive cancers. These promising results could be a way of saving lives. Dr Lui points out that he and his team have been the first to report on the use of cannabis in conjunction with radiation. He hopes these results will instigate formal trails in humans to test the combination therapy.
Will we get a final answer to our question?
It is unlikely that any one study will provide a full answer to the question “Does cannabis cure cancer?” There are so many different types of cancer, and existing treatments already indicate certain drugs for some forms while other forms of cancer don’t respond to the same drugs. Still, any progress will be good news, and we look forward to seeing the study’s results.