Curing cancer is the holy grail of medical research and it’s the most-coveted breakthrough of our time. If we could discover a way to prevent malignant cells from overrunning the human body, not only would we save millions of lives, we would end years of suffering. And, we could finally feel superior to sharks which are rumored to be cancer free (It turns out, they actually can be afflicted). Is cannabis the way? Studies, so far, show that cannabis kills all types of cancer cells.
While chemotherapy and radiation have certainly helped humanity’s battle against cancer, research into the recently discovered (1990s) endocannabinoid system keeps providing new information about how tumors form, spread and turn deadly.
But cancer isn’t just one thing. It’s an umbrella term for a collection of related illnesses. What unites these is the method of mayhem: cancer divides and spreads like ants at a picnic. And because it’s not just one kind of ant, we’ve developed slightly different ways to deal with each species.
Partially, that’s because when cancer infects the brain, we can’t necessarily handle it the way we would handle cancer in the foot. Even if the same treatments would effective at stopping the cancer, the collateral damage to brain cells is just too risky.
But when cannabis treats cancer, it doesn’t cause the kind of negative side effects that chemotherapy, for instance, does. Although human trials and solid scientific research are still a ways off, early studies indicated that cannabis might be the one truly universal way to kill cancer cells.
One of the key ways that cannabis combats cancer is through anti-angiogenic effects. That sounds like a mouthful, but the concept is straightforward. Angiogenesis is the process by which new blood vessels form from old ones — like a potato sprouting. New blood vessels are how wounds heal, people grow, and new and better pathways form for circulation. It’s a vital and healthy part of the body’s daily regimen. But it’s also how tumors transition from benign growths to malignant cancers.
Cancer creates cells that don’t have the ability to divide in a controlled fashion, leading to out-of-control growth. But what fuels that growth? For tumors to get larger and spread, they need a supply of essential nutrients and oxygen, which they get from the bloodstream. So when a cancer begins to grow, it has to do so at the same rate as the blood vessels which nourish it. Without new vessels, the tumor couldn’t expand. Thus one of the best ways to combat cancer growth is by limiting the ability of the body to generate new blood vessels. That’s anti-angiogenesis.
And cannabis happens to be particularly effective at that. New blood vessel growth is regulated in part by the body’s endocannabinoid system, so when cannabinoids enter the body and react with that system, it interferes with cancer’s ability to force new blood vessel growth. By taking up room in the protein receptors, cannabinoids prevent cancer from commandeering and directing the body’s new growth functionality — at least to a point. In this study, tumor growth was significantly slowed, although not completely stopped. And, amazingly, this happens to work against cancer cells, but not against normal new blood vessel growth.
As tumors grow, some cancer cells acquire the ability to escape the primary mass and proceed to invade surrounding tissues or migrate to distant sites, where they found new colonies. This is known as metastasis. It’s what responsible for most human deaths from cancer. These rogue cells invade healthy tissue, grow new tumors, and limit the body’s organs form fulfilling their life-preserving duties. So the best way to prolong cancer patients’ lives are to ensure that these cells don’t escape tumor masses and found new cancer sites.
That’s where CBD comes in. Cannabinoids play a key role in cell migration, invasion and metastasis. Specifically, CBD has proven anti-proliferative effects on glioma cancer cells by inducing something called apoptosis. From the Greek for “falling off,” apoptosis can be best be understood as a cell’s self-destruct sequence. It’s how the body rids itself of bad or non-performing cells. Cancer can fool the body into thinking that tumorous cells aren’t bad and shouldn’t undergo apoptosis, but CBD has been found to mess with that ability and allow the body to kill the cancerous cells.
Studies have also shown that CBD aids tumor regression. One found that cancer in mice was reduced by 70 percent in 18 days after they were treated with CBD. Again, this was glioma (a particularly nasty type of cancer that starts in the brain and spine), but the researchers suggest that the anti-tumor activity associated with CBD could be carried over into other cancers.
The way scientific research works means that cancer treatments will be approached whack-a-mole style — one at a time. For example, cannabis has to be proven to treat lung cancer and brain cancer individually. So the only way we’ll know if cancer is the panacea against cancer that we all hope it to be, is to find that out one disease at a time.