THC Appears to Only Target Cancer Cells, Leaving Healthy Cells Alone

Christine Colbert June 19, 2018 18 comments

In some cases, THC kills cancer cells specifically – Not healthy cells. But how does that work?

In the last few years we’ve learned increasingly more about how cannabis may aid cancer patients. Researchers are looking at how cannabis may ease the symptoms of cancer treatment. These include pain, nausea, and vomiting. They’re even studying if it may fight the disease itself — and cannabis has shown potential. Know, though, that all the research is early, and that there is currently no substantive evidence, from human clinical trials, that cannabis cures or kills cancer. However, through preclinical studies, scientists are finding out that it is possible that THC kills cancer cells. Here’s how it works.

First, readers should temper their hopes with the knowledge that in these preclinical studies, THC doesn’t always kill cancer cells. In some cases, it can do the opposite – aiding them instead.1)Hart, S., Fischer, O. M., & Ullrich, A. (2004). Cannabinoids induce cancer cell proliferation via tumor necrosis factor alpha-converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17)-mediated transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor. Cancer research, 64(6), 1943–1950. https://doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.can-03-3720 But at the moment, there’s definitely enough definitive research to call for more preclinical trials.

This kind of promise has fueled cannabis-cancer research. In October 2019, the Australian government set aside three million dollars AUD, just to study cannabis and cancer. And as scientists continue to find ways in which cannabis might be able to fight cancer, human clinical trials are the next step.

Cancer cell in human body

THC May Have Anti-Tumoral Properties

Scientists are discovering that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in the development of cancer. Their hope is that through THC’s ability to bind to cannabinoid receptors, it’s possible that it could help induce anti-cancer responses in the body.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2019) found that THC activated CB2 receptors in models of HER2+ breast cancer. In doing so, the THC disrupted HER2-CB2R heterodimers, triggering what the researchers called an anti-tumor response.2)Blasco-Benito, Sandra, et al. “Therapeutic Targeting of HER2-CB2R Heteromers in HER2-Positive Breast Cancer.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 26 Feb. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30733293.

In another further study, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics (2009), a synthetic form of THC called WIN-55 diminished the growth and metastasis of HER2+ breast cancer tumors in mice.3)Qamri, Zahida, et al. “Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists Inhibit Tumor Growth and Metastasis of Breast Cancer.” Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, American Association for Cancer Research, 1 Nov. 2009, mct.aacrjournals.org/content/8/11/3117. But HER2+ isn’t the only cancer in which scientists have observed this effect. A study published in Cancer Research (2004) showed that THC inhibited the growth of tumors in glioma cancer by depressing the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathway.4)Blázquez, Cristina, et al. “Cannabinoids Inhibit the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Pathway in Gliomas.” Cancer Research, American Association for Cancer Research, 15 Aug. 2004, cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/16/5617.

How THC Kills Some Cancer Cells

As cannabis research progresses, scientists are also finding that THC might have the ability to induce cancer cell apoptosis; meaning, THC can potentially instigate cancer cell death. What makes this interesting is that scientists have observed that THC only kills cancer cells, but leaves healthy cells alone.

This kind of discovery might be a big deal in cancer research, since other anti-cancer therapies are often more invasive — killing off healthy, normal, cells, and creating much more difficult side effects.

A study in Current Oncology (2016) discussed the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids, and how they could potentially be used in treatment. The authors wrote, “in contrast to the death-promoting action of cannabinoids on cancer cells, the viability of normal (non-transformed) cells is unaffected or, under certain conditions, even enhanced by cannabinoid challenge.”5)Velasco, G, et al. “Anticancer Mechanisms of Cannabinoids.” Current Oncology (Toronto, Ont.), Multimed Inc., Mar. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791144/.

By stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors, THC may encourage the apoptotic death of cancer cells. The researchers theorized that cannabinoids activate a signaling pathway that leads to autophagy and cell death. When THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, it synthesizes the production of ceramide — which is what drives cell death. Interestingly, a diseased cell will increase ceramide levels when these receptors are stimulated, but a healthy cell won’t.6)Velasco, G, et al. “Anticancer Mechanisms of Cannabinoids.” Current Oncology (Toronto, Ont.), Multimed Inc., Mar. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791144/.

Cannabis Researcher

The Future of THC Cancer Research

While much of this research into how cannabinoids might work to fight cancer is compelling, these studies are still very much in the early stages. More in-depth research is needed, and human clinical trials are necessary to truly ascertain the effect of cannabinoids on cancer cells.

But in the meantime, scientists are delving further into the possibilities. From researching the best delivery system for cannabinoids to kill cancer cells, to exploring how cannabinoids interact with concurrent cancer therapies, there is still much to know about how THC can treat cancer most effectively.

And although most studies have been conducted on animals or in vitro, there has been one human clinical trial where THC was used to treat patients with gliobastoma multiforme brain tumors. The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer (2006), observed patients who had been injected with high concentrations of THC.7)Guzmán, M, et al. “A Pilot Clinical Study of Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Patients with Recurrent Glioblastoma Multiforme.” British Journal of Cancer, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 July 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2360617/.

They found that the growth of tumors was slowed in two patients among a very small group of nine. Even though this study was too small to contribute any kind of verifiable conclusion, it did add some important information to what we know about the cancer-fighting abilities of THC. The researchers noted the fair safety profile of THC, and its potential to slow the growth of tumors, which makes it a viable candidate for further cancer-related study.

Further Study Necessary

Its worth noting that just as it may slow tumor growth in some cases, THC can accelerate it in others. This article published in Cancer Research in 2004 is one such example. Remember – cancers are different. It may be that THC kills some cancer cells, but aids others. This is exactly why even more research is necessary.8)Hart, S., Fischer, O. M., & Ullrich, A. (2004). Cannabinoids induce cancer cell proliferation via tumor necrosis factor alpha-converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17)-mediated transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor. Cancer research, 64(6), 1943–1950. https://doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.can-03-3720

Taken altogether, the proven ability of THC to ease cancer-related symptoms is reason alone for more research into cannabis and cancer. But what we’re seeing in animal models provides hope for future cancer treatment. We’re seeing how THC can potentially kill cancer cells and slow the growth of tumors. Once we know how these kinds of results translate in the human body, more conclusions can be made about the efficacy of THC as anti-cancer treatment.

References   [ + ]

1, 8.Hart, S., Fischer, O. M., & Ullrich, A. (2004). Cannabinoids induce cancer cell proliferation via tumor necrosis factor alpha-converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17)-mediated transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor. Cancer research, 64(6), 1943–1950. https://doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.can-03-3720
2.Blasco-Benito, Sandra, et al. “Therapeutic Targeting of HER2-CB2R Heteromers in HER2-Positive Breast Cancer.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 26 Feb. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30733293.
3.Qamri, Zahida, et al. “Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists Inhibit Tumor Growth and Metastasis of Breast Cancer.” Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, American Association for Cancer Research, 1 Nov. 2009, mct.aacrjournals.org/content/8/11/3117.
4.Blázquez, Cristina, et al. “Cannabinoids Inhibit the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Pathway in Gliomas.” Cancer Research, American Association for Cancer Research, 15 Aug. 2004, cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/16/5617.
5, 6.Velasco, G, et al. “Anticancer Mechanisms of Cannabinoids.” Current Oncology (Toronto, Ont.), Multimed Inc., Mar. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791144/.
7.Guzmán, M, et al. “A Pilot Clinical Study of Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Patients with Recurrent Glioblastoma Multiforme.” British Journal of Cancer, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 July 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2360617/.

18 comments

  1. Avatar

    Enoch Liao

    I would like to see the real clinical study links instead of just articles without proof. Thanks

  2. Avatar

    Dan m

    What is the suggested therapeutic dosage for a cancer patient?

    • Jennifer Grant

      Jennifer Grant

      That information is not yet available from ongoing research.

      • Avatar

        Tommy Fleming

        It’s about time certain minds opened!

      • Avatar

        Matthew

        The issue of therapeutic dosage may not be super critical as overdosing does not cause the same type of issues that other types of pharmaceutical drugs may, such as death if it was an overdose of chemotherapy….I see this the therapeutic dosage issue one of the key arguments that is being used to delay widespread decriminalisation and therapeutic use of this herb!

  3. Avatar

    Ralph

    Each type of cancer cell for each type of cancer, and some studies say each individual vary. How can one drug be effective . This study is in its infant stage and should not be pointed except to point out a possible new and interesting lead . All this information is just interesting and unproven by ant creditable studies.

  4. Avatar

    ralph

    The bottom line is that right now there isn’t enough reliable evidence to prove that any form of cannabis can effectively treat cancer in patients. This includes hemp oil, cannabis oil or the active chemicals found within the cannabis plant (cannabinoids) – whether natural or man-made.

    Many researchers worldwide are actively investigating cannabinoids, and Cancer Research UK is supporting some of this work. These studies use highly purified chemicals found in the cannabis plant, or lab-made versions of them, and there is genuine interest in these as potential cancer treatments. But this is very different to street-bought cannabis and hemp oil available online or on the high street, for which there is no evidence of any impact on cancer.

    • Avatar

      Gerry Lynch

      No proof? I suggest it’s time you opened your eyes to this thing called the internet! Cannabis in its various forms has been used since the 19th century to treat, not only cancers but also epilepsy, Parkinson’s and a great variety of other ailments. Cannabis use was only criminalised due to lobbying and pressure from pharmaceutical companies who are not interested in cures only in treatments. It’s laughable to suggest that Cancer Research are now ‘looking into’ the possibility of THC being used in cancer treatment! They’ve had around 80 years of research, using our charitable donations, paying their CEO six figures in salary, to reach this conclusion, when I, in the space of two years have researched cannabis success stories and know that it works. Everyone throws out the standard, ‘clinical trials have not been done, so we can’t recommend it’s use’! There is surely enough discussion online now to make it a priority, so get the clinical trials done… NOW. Let’s stop messing around with the very costly poisons and killers which mask as treatments, namely chemotherapy and radiotherapy! They serve no purpose other than to ensure that a cancer sufferer endures the most dibilitating end to their life!

    • Avatar

      Matthew

      OMG there are SO hundreds of studies proving this!!! You need to do your research!!
      http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page4

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20925645

      Read More:
      https://www.trueactivist.com/there-are-now-100-scientific-studies-proving-cannabis-cures-cancer/

      It is totally hogswash that there is no research or studies!

  5. Avatar

    Andrew

    i put RSO on skin cancer and it disappeared. I’m a believer. Cancer Patients don’t have time for academic studies that should have been done decades ago.

  6. Avatar

    Steve Palfrey

    Rather have hope than statistics.
    Researchers have been proven wrong, or paid before. A plant is usually the best option of cure. Who in Gods name treats Cancer, with Radiation???

  7. Avatar

    Jamie Butler

    My Mother passed away today. After her Chemotherapy stopped working the cancer was in her stomach and liver and I gave her shortbread I made from boiling cannabis in butter. She started eating it a couple of months ago. Amazingly, her blood scan was 98% last week when she had scans, expecting a blood transfusion, which wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately, a stent in her liver blocked up and she was hospitalized with severe pain and passed away under morpine as she was too weakened by the pain to operate. Honestly. If only I had given her the cannabis shortbread a few months previously, because her condition improved so dramatically following the cannabis.

    • Jennifer Grant

      Jennifer Grant

      Oh no…I am so sorry for your loss. 🙁 What a shock after she was recovering. Sending you so much support and big hugs.

    • Avatar

      Matthew

      I am so very sorry to hear about the loss of your Mum Jamie! Please don’t be harsh on yourself, you can help others by spreading the word. You have seen first hand the benefits.
      We live in a sad world when you now cant trust your Doctors to do the right thing by you because they get kick backs for prescribing Chemo!
      All the best.

  8. Avatar

    Bev Sturgiss

    Hi I am so confused. I found a cancer on my breast just after Christmas 2018. I was operated on in February. Did not loose my breast fortunately. Have been through 4 very debilating Chemo sessions and am currently going through Radiation. The doctor has prescribed 7 years of oestrogen when Radiation finished. Now I do not want to go through menopause again. What is my option. I am 63 now and suffered a stroke and a brain haemorrhage in 2015. I was doing really well even got my drivers license back. Do you have any suggestions. I need advise.

    • Avatar

      Matthew

      Bev, check out Rick Simpson Oil, Phoenix Tears on YouTube. Once you have had Chemo it is highly likely that you now have cancer stem cells which is why 4-5 yrs down the track people who have been in remission end up having cancer through out their body. Get onto the cannabis oil or make your own butter and begin treating yourself regularly to make sure you stop any relapse or any chance of cancer to quietly take hold and spread without you knowing.

  9. how and where can you buy THC?

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