“Cannabinoids have a complex action; it hits a number of important processes that cancers need to survive,” Dr. Wai Liu, an oncologist at the University of London’s St. George medical school, told The Huffington Post. “For that reason, it has really good potential over other drugs that only have one function. I am impressed by its activity profile, and feel it has a great future, especially if used with standard chemotherapies.”
Liu is the head author of aÂ study that was recently publishedÂ in the journal Anticancer Research. The study was supported by funding from GW Pharmaceuticals, whichÂ makes a cannabis-derived drugÂ used to treat spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.
Liu’s study looked at the effects of six non-psychoactive cannabinoids when applied alone, and in combination, to leukemia cells. The non-psychoactive cannabinoids — meaning they do not produce the “high” that THC does –Â displayed a “diverse range of therapeutic qualities” that “target and switch off” pathways that allow cancers to grow,Â Liu told U.S. News & World Report.
Liu said his research was built around the testing of the six purified cannabinoid forms and not traditional cannabis oil, which generally contains 80-100 different cannabinoids. “We do not really know which are the ones that will be anticancer and those that may be harmful,” Liu said.
Liu and his team grew leukemia cells in a lab and cultured them with increasing doses six pure cannabinoids, both individually and in combination with each other. The six cannabinoids were:
- CBD (Cannabidiol);
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid);
- CBG (Cannbigerol);
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid);
- CBGV (Cannabigevarin); and,
- CBGVA (Cannabigevaric acid).
Liu and his team then assessed the viability of the leukemia cells and determined whether or not the cannabinoids destroyed the cells or stopped them from growing.Â Although the results are promising, Liu said that it is still unclear if the cannabinoid treatment would work on theÂ 200-plusÂ existing types of cancer.
“Cancer is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that fundamentally differ in their cellular makeup, [and] which occur as a result of disturbances to growth controls,” Liu said. “Chemotherapy works by disrupting these dysfunctional growth signals. Therefore, any cancers that have these profiles should respond to the chemotherapy. It just so happens that a number of cannabinoids can target these very same mechanisms that make cancer what it is, and so any cancer that exhibits these faults should respond well to cannabinoids. The flip side is, of course, that other cancers may not have these same genetic faults and so cannabinoids may not work as well.”
Liu also said that he doesn’t believe smoking marijuana would have the same effect on cancer cells as the lab results.
“Smoking cannabis introduces a number of potential problems,” Liu said. “First, the complex makeup of cannabis that contains about 80 bioactive substances means that the desired anticancer effect may be lost because these compounds may interfere with each other. Second, we see that delivering the drug either by injection or by a tablet would ensure the most effective doses are given. Smoking would be variable, and indeed the heat of the burning may actually destroy the useful nature of the compounds.”
Liu said he hopes toÂ start clinical trialsÂ involving humans in 12 to 18 months.