TRPV1 – The Receptor That’s Coming For Endometrial Cancer
Move over CB receptors, there’s a new receptor in town and it looks like this one is fighting cancer too.
When we hear doctors and scientists talk about cannabis and cancer, the usual focus is placed on the endocannabinoid system. This is a network of cell receptors that span from the deepest recesses of our nervous system to the outermost boundary of our skin. The dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system has been implicated in many disease states, including cancer.
Plant-derived cannabinoids, as well as our bodies’ endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), interact with these endocannabinoid receptors to restore homeostasis. These are also able to induce cancer cells to “commit suicide” in a process called apoptosis. So far, we have only seen this process happen in the lab.
If clinical studies are able to officially show that cannabinoids work this way in living organisms, it will revolutionize oncology. We would have a cancer treatment that specifically targets cancer cells for destruction while leaving healthy cells intact.
Current conventional treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy, destroy all cells, not just cancer cells.
TRPV: The Other Cannabinoid Receptor
Although researchers are still investigating cannabis interacting with the endocannabinoid system as an anti-cancer treatment, new evidence suggests that cannabinoids may interact with other cell receptors that play an anti-cancer role.
One of these systems is the TRPV system. TRPV (pronounced like “trip vee”) is short for Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily V (for vanilloid), so technically it should be TRPCCSV, but that’s a bit much, yeah?
If you’ve ever tasted the spicy sting of garlic, or felt heat from eating peppers, then you’ve experienced the power of the TRPV system. TRPV receptors are protein complexes that form ion channels, controlling the flow of ions such as salt and metals into and out of a cell. We’re not exactly sure how the TRPV ion channels direct our cellular behaviors, but we know the TRPV system regulates our neurological, skeletal, and renal (kidney) functions.
More importantly, a healthy TRPV system prevents us from developing cancer. And as one study published last May in the Journal of Physiological Biochemistry discovered, a particular TRPV receptor, creatively dubbed TRPV1, may be crucial for cannabinoids to work their magic against cancer cells.
How TRPV1 Can Fight Endometrial Cancer
Researchers employed two endometrial cancer cell lines. They exposed both cell lines to a variety of cannabinoid mixtures made of THC, CBD, or anandamide (AEA).
THC alone didn’t do anything. However, when the researchers hit the cells with CBD and AEA, the endometrial cancer cells started dying. By measuring calcium levels and free radical production, they determined that AEA and CBD together had activated TRPV1, and cancer cell apoptosis had occurred.
Pretty neat, eh?
The Hyperemesis Connection
You may remember TRPV1 from RxLeaf’s article about Alice Moon, the cannabis activist who battled cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) earlier this year. CHS is a rare, but potentially lethal condition where cannabis causes someone to vomit uncontrollably. Although doctors are still learning about CHS, hot baths or showers appear to relieve CHS’s debilitating symptoms.
Why hot baths and showers? That comes back to TRPV1. TRPV1 not only makes us feel “imagined” heat from the capsaicin in peppers, it also responds to real heat against our skin. Heat downregulates the receptor, essentially turning it down like tuning the volume knob to near silence. If CHS is caused by overstimulation of TRPV1 by cannabis, then downregulating that same receptor with heat makes perfect sense.
Hope for the Future of Cannabis-Cancer Research
Although the TRPV1 study, as well as other in vitro cancer studies, show promise for cannabinoids like CBD, AEA, and THC, we must remember that these studies aren’t definitive. Cancer cells don’t behave the same way in test tubes as they do in the human body. Although cannabis may work wonders for killing cancer cells in a laboratory, a cannabinoid approach to cancer may be much more complicated in reality.
Unfortunately, laws against cannabis restrict researchers from testing this plant in a clinical setting. Governments will tell us that cannabis is too dangerous to give to sick people, even as states, provinces, and entire nations are now legalizing it.
Hopefully, the Journal of Physiological Chemistry TRPV1 study will encourage our legislators and federal officials to approve some real research on people. It’s been long overdue.