The general public is often quite surprised when encountering the fact that cannabinoids are actually key compounds which are produced by our bodies, and they are an integrated part of human physiology. These compounds are known as endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids. In each tissue, this cannabinoid system performs different tasks. But the goal is always homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable environment. And towards this end, cannabinoid binding sites exist throughout various tissues. And not just in humans, but in a variety of species. The two most important receptors for cannabinoids at this time appear to be the CB1and CB2 receptors, which are expressed strongly in the nervous and immune systems (This blog will be exploring the critical importance of this endocannabinoid system in greater depth in future editions).
Acting through these cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, endocannabinoids are increasingly being proven to have an important role in variety of biological functions, including pain, anxiety, and inflammation modulation. The compound found in medicinal marijuana, Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) also affects these CB! and CB2 receptors. A synthetic derivative of THC, known as Marinol, has been approved for use as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients. Fortunately, a small number of U.S. States also now allow the use of medical marijuana to treat this same side effect of conventional cancer treatments. However, despite its proven efficacy in that particular arena, up until now there have been only a handful of studies focusing on the use that THC might have as an anti-tumor compound. Until recently the sole clinical trial testing THC as a treatment against cancer growth was a British study vis-a-vis human glioblastoma But now there is a an important study that seems to show that the compound Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lung cancers that over-express epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR). These cancers are usually highly aggressive and unfortunately tend to be quite resistant to chemotherapy. According to laboratory and mouse research done at Harvard University, THC reduces tumor growth in common lung cancer by half. It also appears to substantially reduce the ability of the cancer to spread.
As a foundational step the researchers established that two varying lung cancer cell lines and patient lung tumor samples express CB1 and CB2. Non-toxic doses of THC then proved to inhibit growth and spread in the cell lines. “When the cells are pretreated with THC, they have less EGFR stimulated invasion as measured by various in-vitro assays,” researcher Preet stated.
Next, for three weeks researchers injected standardized dosages of THC into mice which had been implanted with human lung cancer cells. The critical factor was that they actually found that tumors were reduced in size and weight by about 50 percent in treated animals, compared to a control group! There also was an approximately 60 percent reduction in lung cancer lesions in these mice. Finally, a substantial reduction in proteins associated with cancer progression was observed.
The THC that targets cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 is similar in function to our own endocannabinoids. Further research is needed to clarify the pathway by which THC functions in these experiments. Although the researchers do not yet know for certain how THC inhibits the growth of certain tumors, they postulate that the compound might be activating molecules that halt the cancer cell cycle. There is an additional and important possibility that THC may interfere with angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels in tumors – which is necessary for cancer growth. In any case, this is exciting and very important research that should pave the way for further well-designed studies.
Kelly Walker, M.S. is an agronomist and soil scientist, composting industry consultant and marketing director for Intrepid Marketing in Bend, Oregon. He is an adviser, marketing consultant and content contributor to Dakine 420. He gained his Master’s at New Mexico State University, where his studies focused on co-composting of various organic materials for bioremediation and soil amendment.
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