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CBD Could Make Radiation More Effective

Matt Weeks
Patient Receiving Radiation Therapy

Cannabis could help doctors get tough on the worst forms of cancer.

According to new research published in Frontiers in Oncology, doctors in Boston have discovered that cannabinoids, when used correctly, can increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy for patients with some of the deadliest forms of cancer.

The findings offer new hope for patients struggling with tumors in the pancreas and lungs.

MRI scans of pancreas showing tumors

Abdominal CAT scan showing pancreatic mass.  Image Credit: Huguette Roe

The breakthroughs, including increased survival rates and more effective cancer cell destruction, come via two new CBD-based approaches to treatment: by combining CBD therapy with radiation treatments, and by deploying CBD directly to tumor sites.

To understand how these approaches work, first consider how human cancers typically function. Cancer cells infiltrate the body like a Trojan horse, then begin to grow strong by feasting on healthy cells. The process is a zero-sum game in which cancer’s win is the body’s loss, and the only way to save the host is to eliminate the cancer before it devours enough tissue to cause the body to stop its vital functions.

Lung animation showing left lobe tumor

Image Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki

But destroying cancer isn’t simple. The disease is made of cells much like the body’s cells, which makes it tremendously difficult for the immune system to target and destroy cancerous entities without killing the healthy body cells in it vicinity. It’s like trying to kill weeds by spraying an entire patch of crops with Round Up; some good things are going to die, too.

So, scientists have long sought to give radiation therapy, a truly effective killer of all kinds of cells, a GPS device that can point the way to tumors—and away from anything else. Enter the nanotechnology.

Concept Drawing for Nanorobots repairing cells

Concept drawing of microscopic nano-robots in action repairing a red blood cell. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Nanotechnology has been effective in bringing this kind of device to life. By creating “smart” nano-sized biomaterials, scientists have developed robots that can be programmed to move directly to tumor sites and deploy medicine.

The Boston researchers used these smart materials to deliver CBD treatment directly to tumors, then upped the ante. Through special modifications, the smart technology was able to deliver medicine to the tumor sites at exact intervals, meaning that the tumors could be exposed to CBD treatments not just in a single quick shot, but gradually over many hours.

Beaker of CBD oil being testing by researcher in black glove

Image Credit: Mitch M

This approach proved to be a breakthrough.

Prolonged exposure to CBD resulted in far weaker tumors and, as a result, an increased cancer kill rate. When this was studied in mice, those treated with CBD medicine showed a significantly increased survival rate compared to those who did not have access to CBD.

What’s more, the delivery method meant that fewer innocent bystander cells died as a result of the therapy because 100 percent of the anti-cancer medicine is delivered to the tumor site. Plus, thanks to the pain-relieving properties of cannabis, deployment of CBD to areas afflicted by cancer is, could provide acute relief from the pain of cancer.

Cancer Cells on Background

Image Credit: Crystal Light

And, because the nanomaterials that make site-specific medication deployment possible are programmable, they can target cancers at different tumors progression at different levels instead of treating all cancers exactly the same.

The idea of customizable CBD treatment is a new leap forward in the evolution of cancer treatment. Research has shown that different combinations of CBD and radio therapy are more effective than others—it’s not simply the greater the amount, the more damage done.

Patient Receiving Radiation Therapy

Image Credit: Shutterstock

In most studies, the presence of CBD is found to make radiation therapy more effective. It’s taken cancer greatest killer and given it steroids. But the Boston scientists discovered that CBD was actually more effective at destroying cancer cells than radiation in some instances.

Another surprising finding was that the method of CBD delivery affected tumor growth. Compared to a control group, mice that were treated by CBD-loaded smart materials had tumors that grew at much slower rates.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

This is all great news and exciting, but a long way off from a treatment option at your local oncologist’s office. The next step in this line of research, specifically using smart biomaterial technology to treat cancer, will be to begin clinical studies. And that could be a long way off.

Although the therapy proved effective in mice, and somewhat similar therapies have been OK’d by the Food and Drug Administration to treat brain tumors, more work still needs to be done on lung and pancreatic cancer treatments before new trials will likely be

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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