Research Shows Cannabinoids Slow Tumor Growth in Aggressive Cancer

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A new study revealed that cannabis can be used to augment radiation therapy.

Marijuana could play a role in treating one of the most aggressive cancers in adults, a new study found.

The research team from St. George’s University of London examined mice that had been infected with glioma, one of the most aggressive cancers in adult humans. The mice were then treated with radiation alone or in combination with two cannabinoids—the active components of the cannabis plant—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

“We wanted to investigate the anti-cancer effects of Sativex in glioma cells,” said Dr. Wai Liu, one of the study’s lead authors. Sativex is an equal mixture of THC and CBD, and is already licensed as a mouth spray for multiple sclerosis in the United States.

The researchers found the tumors were best treated by low doses of both THC and CBD, a combination which made the tumors more receptive to radiation treatment. Liu said this “triple threat approach” may be of value.

“Our results showed that the dose of irradiation we used had no dramatic effect on tumor growth, whereas CBD and THC administered together marginally reduced tumor progression,” Liu wrote. “However, combining the cannabinoids with irradiation further impeded the rate at which tumor growth progressed and was virtually stagnant throughout the course of the treatment.”

Though study of the anti-cancer effect of cannabinoids is not new, this research is the first to examine marijuana’s effect on cancer when used with radiation, Liu said. “[C]ombining radiotherapy with cannabinoid treatment had a big effect,” Liu wrote in the Washington Post.

THC and CBD are just two of dozens of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. High-grade glioma has very low survival rates, as standard treatments for glioma remain largely unsuccessful. “The results are promising…it could provide a way of breaking through glioma and saving more lives,” Liu said.

“Hopefully, these results will support calls for formal trials in humans to test these combinations.”

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