For over 40 years, research proving cannabis‘s incredible cancer-fighting powers has been either hushed or completely ignored by the US government. It continues to push other treatments, a lot of the time at the cost of your overall health, and carries on strictly enforcing marijuana laws.
The major issue in medical research of marijuana is the fact that federal permission is mandatory in order to conduct the research, due to its illegal schedule 1 status (3).
Senior Policy Analyst at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Paul Armentano, collected together the findings of multiple studies into marijuana’s effect on cancerous cells. He found that the US government has been avoiding to listen to some pretty across-the-board conclusive evidence.
What do Studies Show About Cancer and Cannabis?
Armentano’s report (1) on cannabinoids (the active compounds in cannabis) and the ways in which they can impact on cancer cells, brought together decades of research into the subject.
He begins his study with a quote from the conclusion of another comprehensive review. “Cannabinoids possess… anticancer activity [and may] possibly represent a new class of anti-cancer drugs that retard cancer growth, [and] inhibit… the metastatic spreading of cancer cells.” (1)
Armentano then goes back to over 4 decades ago, with a 1974 study by the Medical College of Virginia. This study found that cannabis inhibited malignant tumor cell growth in both cultures and mice. The study was published in the Washington Post and concluded that marijuana’s primary cannabinoid, THC, “slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers, and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent.” (1)
In spite of these very promising finds, the government refused any future funding for 20 years. That is, until a mid-90s study by the US National Toxicology Program. Once again, they found that cannabis had a positive impact – mice and rats that were given high doses of THC over long periods of time experienced greater protection against malignant tumors than the untreated mice.
The results of this study were actually kept secret. They only came to light after they were leaked in 1997 to a medical journal, which then released them to the national media. Even then, the government hasn’t been forthcoming in funding any more studies on the subject in America.
Thankfully, over the past two decades or so, overseas research has stepped in and continued to report on cannabinoids’ cancer-fighting abilities. These studies have found it to halt many types of cancer from prostate cancer to lung, breast, and even brain cancer (3). Italian researchers reiterated, “[Cannabinoids] have displayed a great potency in reducing glioma tumor growth… without affecting the viability of [healthy cells].” (3)
These findings are vital, as traditional treatments such as chemotherapy are ruthless – not discriminating between the cancerous cells and healthy ones. It seems as though cannabinoids can single out the cancer cells.
How is Cannabis Killing Cancer Cells?
According to the PBS documentary “Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis” (2) this incredible power is due to receptors on cells throughout the body. You can think of receptors almost as “locks” and when the right “key” comes along and connects with the lock, it releases a message. Typical messages might be that the body is under attack, and the immune system needs to respond, or even something as simple as a registering of pain.
In the case of cannabis, researchers found two cannabinoid receptors on cells throughout the body. For these receptors, cannabinoids present in marijuana are the all-important “key”. These cannabinoid receptors are called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are mainly located in the brain but are present in many major organs throughout the body, such as the heart and liver.
CB2 receptors are found on cells throughout the immune system. When these cells mutate and become cancerous, they no longer die like normal cells, but grow and spread uncontrollably. Importantly, though, they still retain their CB2 receptors, even when they become cancerous.
These CB2 receptors essentially act as a target for the cannabinoids present in marijuana. When those compounds hit the receptors, they key and lock come together and release a critical message – the cannabinoids tell the cancerous cells to die.
Surprisingly, what follows is just that – the cells “commit suicide” (2). This is how cannabinoids are able to kill cancerous cells so effectively.
The Future of Cancer Treatment?
As of yet, there is still a lot more research that needs to be done for the benefits of cannabinoids in fighting cancer to be fully understood and appreciated. It seems as though the social stigma attached to cannabis has damaged much of the medical research for way too long, although the future is starting to look a little greener.