Molecular Scientists Are Studying Cannabinoids For Treating Cancer

For more than a decade, researchers in Spain have been studying compounds in marijuana as treatments for cancer.
Oct 22, 2015

Cristina Sánchez, PhD, is a molecular biologist at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. Over the past twelve years, Dr. Sánchez and her team have conducted extensive research on the anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids.

Her lab is not the only one to investigate the unique potential of these cannabis-derived compounds. In fact, researchers in many parts of the world, including the U.S., have demonstrated the ability of cannabinoids to combat tumors in various models.

In a recent interview with Cannabis Planet TV, Dr. Sánchez described how her team stumbled upon this discovery, and why cannabinoids and cancer have remained her focus ever since.

A surprising effect of THC on tumor cells…

Dr. Sánchez: “We started working on this project 12-15 years ago, and it was basically by chance. We were working with astrocytes at the time, and we decided to change the model and work with astrocytoma cells; the tumoral cells.

We observed that when we treated these cells with cannabinoids, THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, it was killing the cells in our Petri dishes. We were killing the cells. So we said that we were facing some potential anti-tumoral responses.”

Exploring cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer…

Dr. Sánchez: “We decided to analyze these compounds in animal models of breast and brain tumors. The results we have obtained are telling us that cannabinoids may be useful for the treatment of breast cancer.

We started to do experiments in animal of models of glioblastomas – brain tumors – and we observed that cannabinoids were very potent in reducing tumoral growth.

Cells can die in different ways, and after cannabinoid treatment, they were dying in the ‘clean’ way. They were committing suicide (also known as apoptosis), which is something you really want when you have an anti-tumoral effect.

One of the advantages of cannabinoids and cannabinoid-based medicines would be that they target specifically the tumoral cells. They do not have any toxic effect on normal, non-tumoral cells. This is an advantage in respect of standard chemotherapy that targets basically everything.

When we started to see this anti-tumor and cell-killing effects on cancer cells, we decided to set aside our metabolic studies and to focus on cancer.”

On the verge of human studies…

Dr. Sánchez: “We are in contact with doctors in Spain, neurooncologists and breast cancer specialists, that are willing to test these compounds in human patients.

The plant, besides THC, produces cannabidiol. This compound is very special because it is not psychoactive. It has been demonstrated that this has very, very potent (antioxidant properties).

It protects the brain from stress and from damage, kills cancer cells, and when combined with THC, it produces synergistic effects, which means that the effect of THC is potentiated.

At this point, we have enough pre-clinical evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids may have anti-tumoral properties.”

(You can watch the full interview here)

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