Four Ways Cannabis Kills Cancer

Cannabis and cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals are already used to manage pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy. In the future, we may see cannabis medicines incorporated into intensive treatment plans.
Aug 28, 2016

While it may be difficult to believe, cannabis kills cancer cells. A wealth of recent research has found that cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, prevent cancer from spreading, growing, and even cause tumor cells to die. But, how is all of this possible? We’ll tell you. 

1. Anti-proliferative

One problem with cancer cells is that they don’t stop growing. Once a malignant tumor begins, cancer cells continue to divide and conquer. New cancer cells are continuously being made. The cells then rapidly spread to other tissues in the body. This process of growing and spreading is proliferation.

Here’s how cannabis can help: the active compounds in the herb are anti-proliferative. A 2014 review published in Oncotarget found that cannabinoids inhibited cell proliferation in breast, prostate, and lung cancers. These anti-proliferative effects are thought to apply to other cancers and medical conditions as well.

A year earlier, in 2013, a team of Italian scientists found that non-psychoactive CBD protected against cancer cell “migration, adhesion, and invasion”.

Back in 2010, researchers found that cannabis also had an anti-proliferative effect in deep infiltrating endometriosis, where painful lesions appear on various female reproductive organs. Endometriosis increases your risk of developing cancer.

2. Anti-metastatic

When cancer cells migrate from part of the body to another, the cells become metastatic. Cancer cells break away from the original tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and make a home elsewhere in the body. This is why some people with breast cancer later develop cancers of the bone, liver, brain, or lungs.

Recent research discovered that cannabinoids block metastasis. Over the past two decades, Spanish scientists at the Complutense University of Madrid have been studying the impact of cannabinoids and cancer cells.

In 2012, they found that compounds in the herb had anti-metastatic effects in tumor cells. In a recent review, lead author Guillermo Velasco cited over 12 studies evidencing cannabinoid protection against metastatic cancers.

3. Anti-angiogenesis

For tumors to survive, they need blood. Unfortunately, they take all of the blood they need through a process called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis enables tumors to grow blood vessels. This helps them grow larger and larger over time until they impede normal bodily function.

Researchers have been trying to develop drugs which stop tumors from creating blood cells. Fortunately, cannabinoids seem to do just that.

In 2008, a Spanish research team led by Cristina Blázquez discovered that psychoactive THC weakens a tumor’s ability to develop new blood vessels. While the team looked at brain cancer cells called gliomas specifically, they mention that the same effects have been found in melanomas and skin carcinomas as well.

Additional research from 2011 from Vanderbilt University cited evidence that non-psychoactive CBD is also anti-angiogenic, though it works differently from THC. This is big news, as it shows that the active compounds in cannabis fight tumor cells in a variety of ways.

4. Apoptosis

Already, cannabinoids stop tumor cells from spreading, slow down growth, and cut off their blood supply. But, can cannabis actually kill cancer cells? Research suggests that it can.

recent study published in Current Oncology  found that both THC and CBD were effective in killing neuroblastoma cells. Neuroblastomas are the most common tumors among children. With this particular type of cancer, CBD was more effective.

But, how? Simply said, CBD caused the brain tumor cells to commit suicide. The technical name for cell suicide is apoptosis. Apoptosis is a natural mechanism that the body uses to clear out cells that are damaged and ineffective.

This phenomenon is known as “programmed cell death” and it helps maintain the health of your cells. For some reason, cancer cells no longer die. They evade apoptosis. Research as early as 1998 has found that cannabinoids like THC trigger apoptosis in tumor cells, meaning they actually die.

All of the above research has profound implications on the future of cancer treatment. Currently, chemotherapy and radiation are the go-to methods for cancer management, but the treatments are taxing and have long-term side effects.

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