Many cannabis patients have long suspected that the herb is beneficial for cancer. Not only is the herb helpful for managing symptoms like cancer-related pain and nausea, but now a small proof of concept study suggests that cannabis medicines may treat brain cancer. How? Here’s the scoop.
Success with cannabis-based pharmaceuticals
When it comes to cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, a British bioresearch company is spearheading the pack. That company is GW Pharmaceuticals, which recently made headlines for their new epilepsy drug, Epidiolex.
Epidiolex contains cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound that does not produce a psychotropic “high.” The new drug has been successful in reducing seizures in patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare types of intractable epilepsy.
In fact, after several successful human trials, Epidiolex is well on its way to being the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical to hit U.S. pharmacy shelves for a number of decades.
Sativex, a multiple sclerosis drug containing THC, was the first legal cannabis medicine to be made available in several different countries around the globe.
Now, GW Pharma is once again making headlines with another experimental cannabis drug. This time, the target is a deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer: glioblastoma multiforme.
Study: cannabis medicines may treat brain cancer
In a small clinical trial of 21 glioblastoma patients, researchers found that cannabis-based medicines successfully extended the life of patients given the treatment when compared with placebo.
Patients receiving cannabis treatment were given an experimental drug containing both CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound that causes the “high”.
While all patients were also given chemotherapy, those who had tried the supplemental cannabis treatments lived about a median of six months longer than those without. When compared to the placebo group, patients given the experimental drug also had an 83 percent one-year survival rate.
In contrast, those given placebo only had a 53 percent survival rate at one year.
This boosted survival time is quite miraculous, especially considering that about 70 percent of patients diagnosed with the aggressive cancer pass away within two years.
Treatments that increase the survival rate and improve quality of life for glioblastoma patients are sorely needed. This early trial is an excellent sign that there is, indeed, a future to cannabis-based medicines for cancer.
In animal models, scientists have discovered that cannabis compounds successfully kill tumor cells. The molecules do this by triggering cancer cells to self-destruct, a natural process called apoptosis.
While this theory has yet to be tested in humans, this preclinical evidence provides backing for further human research on the subject.
Prior to GW Pharma’s investigation into glioma, biochemists at the Complutense University of Madrid have found that injecting THC into terminal glioma patients intracranially (directly into the brain) seemed to be well-tolerated.
In this study, patients given THC treatment survived for an average of 24 weeks. Two patients survived for another year.
This early pilot study treated 9 brain cancer patients with THC. Though, the scientists behind this small trial ultimately concluded that simpler administrations of cannabis treatments would be worthwhile to test.