Updated: Feb 14
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both naturally occurring compounds found in plants in the cannabis genus. CBD was first isolated in 1940 whilst THC was isolated in 1964 by the preeminent cannabis scientist Raphael Mechoulam. At the most fundamental level, THC and CBD are different because of their different physiological effects. CBD is non-psychotropic and therefore does not illicit a “high” whereas THC is psychotropic and is the only known cannabis-derived compound to illicit a “high”.
Cannabinoids are defined as chemical compounds that interact with the cannabinoid receptors, which in humans include CB1, predominantly expressed on neurons in the brain and central nervous system, and CB2 expressed in non-neuronal tissues such as immune cells. Cancer cells can express these receptors as well, and studies are mixed as to whether it can indicate a better or worse prognosis compared to cells that do not have the receptors. But the effects of cannabinoids on cancer are not limited to interaction with these receptors as several studies have documented effects that are not prevented by blocking these receptors. THC is the cannabinoid classically associated with the psychoactive and appetite-stimulating effects, although it is not exclusively so. Cannabidiol is another cannabinoid that also has been studied for anti-cancer effects and is often referred to as CBD.
In one study conducted in 2008 and published in the International Journal of Cancer, cannabinoids were applied to normal pancreatic cells and cancerous pancreatic cells. The results indicated that activation of the CB2 receptor may induce apoptosis of pancreatic cancer cells without affecting the normal cells.
Can cannabis alone cure cancer? The short answer is no. The long answer is more complex. Let’s get deep into it.
One should understand what cancer cells are, how they are different from normal healthy cells. Cancer cells are rogue cells, they fail to obey the cellular regulation that keeps them under control. In cancer cells due to certain changes in DNA leads to change in cellular physiology, they keep proliferating without any checks and balances.
Studies have demonstrated cannabinoids can slow the cancer progression for several cancer types including lung, glioma, thyroid, lymphoma, skin, pancreas, uterus, breasts, prostate and colorectal carcinoma both in vitro and in vivo. Certain preclinical studies have suggested that Δ9-THC and other phytocannabinoids may have anti-cancer effects in vitro and in vivo by exerting antiproliferative qualities on cancer cells.
The First research in the 1970s
The first study to show evidence of the anti-cancer effect in cannabis came out in 1975. That study, which oncologist Dr. Donald Abrams mentions in a 2019 article, “Should Oncologists Recommend Cannabis?”, showed that THC and CBD could inhibit the growth of certain lung cancer cells in test tube experiments. Abrams is a renowned integrative oncologist, clinician, medical cannabis pioneer, and medical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Subsequent studies found that cannabinoids selectively killed glioblastoma (brain cancer) cells in mice while leaving normal cells untouched.
Listen to Joy Smith in the video below. She was diagnosed in July 2016 with ovarian cancer. In August 2017 she was given six weeks to live after it was discovered that cancer has spread to her stomach and bowel. But now she's in remission and claims cannabis oil cured her terminal disease.
Joy Smith after her miraculous recovery
In India also, patients have been treated with cannabis THC extract. The video released by the Great Legalisation Movement, India for their series called "The Gaanja Situation" shows a 75 years old patient called Cliff. He can be seen speaking about the treatment in this video.
CBD VS THC
Although THC oil does have cancer-curing effects it isn’t to the same degree as CBD since THC is psychedelic and CBD isn’t. THC has a similar effect as CBD on cancer cell proliferation but is associated with the undesirable psychotropic effect. It works differently from the CBD, but the downstream target protein involved in the cell proliferation controls are like CBD. Furthermore, few studies have demonstrated that when both THC and CBD are given together, they work better to cure cancer when compared to individual treatment.
THC causes the psychoactive effect of cannabis, whereas CBD is non-psychoactive. This means that it does not produce sensations of intoxication. CBD is even considered to be anti-psychotic in its effects, mediating and neutralizing the psychoactivity of THC. For this reason, recreational strains of cannabis generally contain higher levels of THC, while medicinal cannabis might focus on either CBD or THC, depending on the condition being treated together.
As a treatment for cancer
There’s solid evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids can reduce tumor growth in animal models of cancer. CBD may also enhance uptake or increase the potency of certain drugs used to treat cancer.
Here are some promising studies:
· A 2019 review ofin vitro and in vivo studies focusing on pancreatic cancer found that cannabinoids can help slow tumor growth, reduce tumor invasion, and induce tumor cell death. The study authors wrote that research into the effectiveness of different formulations, dosing, and precise mode of action is lacking and urgently needed.
· A 2019 studyindicated that CBD could provoke cell death and make glioblastoma cells more sensitive to radiation, but with no effect on healthy cells.
· A large, long-term study of men within the California Men’s Health Study cohort found that using cannabis may be inversely associated with bladder cancer risk. However, a cause and effect relationship hasn’t been established.
· A 2014 study in experimental models of colon cancer in vivo suggests that CBD may inhibit the spread of colorectal cancer cells.
· A review of 35 in vitro and in vivo studies found that cannabinoids are promising compounds in the treatment of gliomas.
· Other research demonstrated the efficacy of CBD in pre-clinical models of metastatic breast cancer. The study found that CBD significantly reduced breast cancer cell proliferation and invasion.
When it comes to cancer prevention, CBD research has a long way to go. Scientists will have to conduct long-term studies of people using specific CBD products, controlling for frequency of use, dosing, and other variables.
Watch this video below where Dr. Erik Johnson explains how cannabis (THC) tetrahydrocannabinol kills cancer cells. It doesn't work as well on slow-dividing cells, but works quite well on the softer, smaller and more rapidly growing cancers (glial, pancreatic).
There are still many unanswered questions about the potential for using cannabinoids to treat cancer. It’s not clear:
· which type of cannabinoid – either natural or synthetic – might be most effective
· what kind of doses might be needed
· which types of cancer might respond best to cannabinoids
· how to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC
· how best to get cannabinoids, which don’t dissolve easily in water, into cancer cells
· whether cannabinoids will help to boost or counteract the effects of chemotherapy
These questions must be answered for cannabinoids to be used as safe and effective treatments for cancer patients. It’s the same situation for the many hundreds of other potential cancer drugs being developed and tested in university, charity and industry labs all over the world.
Before cannabinoids could be used in clinical trials, there is a need to explore more knowledge on several issues such as anti-tumorigenic and anti-metastatic mechanisms as well as which type of cancer patient populations would be more responsive for cannabinoid-based therapies.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can produce an array of side effects, such as nausea and loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss. CBD is also thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. So far, only one CBD product has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.That product is Epidiolex, and its only use is in the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. No CBD products have been FDA-approved to treat cancer or symptoms of cancer or to ease the side effects of cancer treatment.
On the other hand, two marijuana-based drugs have been approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Dronabinol (Marinol) comes in capsule form and contains THC. Nabilone (Cesamet) is an oral synthetic cannabinoid that acts similar to THC. Another cannabinoid drug, nabiximols, is available in Canada and parts of Europe. It’s a mouth spray containing both THC and CBD and has shown promise in treating cancer pain. It’s not approved in the United States, but it is the subject of ongoing research.
CBD and THC are cannabidiols which have different medical properties. Both substances are considered relatively safe for humans and can be a helpful solution for the effective treatment of versatile health problems. They can have different side effects, accumulate in the body and can be detected using a simple drug test. Scientists are also looking into how CBD could aid cancer treatment, but more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.
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Note:People should always talk to a doctor before using CBD or any other compound during cancer treatment to ensure that it will not react with any of the medications that they are taking.