Cristina Sanchez, PhD, and her team at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, have spent the last twelve years conducting extensive research on the anti-tumour effects of cannabinoids. Her studies have demonstrated the ability of cannabinoids to combat tumors in various models. Researchers from many countries, including the US, have similar findings. Dr. Sean McAllister of the California Pacific Medical Center has found that the cannabinoid known as cannabidiol can reduce the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
In an interview with Cannabis Planet TV, Dr. Sanchez explains how she found the tumour-killing properties of THC – the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. This promising discovery led Dr. Sanchez to focus on cannabinoids as cancer medicine.
Discovering THC and the cannabinoid system
Dr. Sanchez: “In the early 1960s, Raphael Mechoulam characterised the main compound in cannabis; producing the psychoactive effects that we all know. The cannabis plant has been known for a millennium.
After the discovery of this compound that is called THC, it was pretty obvious that this compound had to be acting on the cells on our organism, through a molecular mechanism. In the 1980s, two specific targets for THC were discovered, something that we call cannabinoid receptors.”
The effect of cannabinoids on tumours
Dr. Sanchez: “We were working with astrocytes at the time, and we decided to change the model and work with astrocytoma cells; the tumoral cells.
We observed that when we treated these cells with cannabinoids, THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, it was killing the cells in our Petri dishes. We were killing the cells. So we said that we were facing some potential anti-tumoral responses.”
Cannabinoids and the treatment of cancer
Dr. Sanchez: “We decided to analyze these compounds in animal models of breast and brain tumours. The results we have obtained are telling us that cannabinoids may be useful for the treatment of breast cancer. We started to do experiments in animal of models of gliobastomas, brain tumours, and we observed that cannabinoids were very potent in reducing tumoral growth.
Cells can die in different ways, and after cannabinoid treatment, they were dying in the ‘clean’ way. They were committing suicide (also known as apoptosis), which is something you really want when you have an anti-tumoral effect.
One of the advantages of cannabinoids and cannabinoid-based medicines would be that they target specifically the tumoral cells. They do not have any toxic effect on normal, non-tumoral cells. This is an advantage in respect of standard chemotherapy that targets basically everything.
When we started to see this anti-tumour and cell-killing effects on cancer cells, we decided to set aside our metabolic studies and to focus on cancer.”
Support for human studies on cannabinoids
Dr. Sánchez: “We are in contact with doctors in Spain, neurooncologists and breast cancer specialists that are willing to test these compounds in human patients.
The plant, besides THC, produces cannabidiol. This compound is very special because it is not psychoactive. It has been demonstrated that this has very, very potent antioxidant (properties).
It protects the brain from stress and from damage, kills cancer cells, and when combined with THC, it produces synergistic effects, which means that the effect of THC is potentiated.
At this point, we have enough pre-clinical evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids may have anti-tumoral properties.
We, as researchers, should explore in more depth and be willing to try in many different pathologies. Cannabis has enormous therapeutic potential.”