Needless to say that potential of cannabis as a medicinal plant is highly likely to be significantly bigger than even enthusiasts and pro-cannabis treatment specialists may think. Depression, chronic pain, sleep disorders make quite an impressive list already. But what do we now about the effect the plant could make on treating one of the most relentless and widespread diseases the humanity has been struggling with – cancer?
Though overall death rates caused by cancer have continued to decrease in the past several years, according to National Cancer Institute, the condition still remains one of the most troubling throughout the nation. Recent statistics show that mortality rate is as high as 145.4 per 100.000 women and 207.9 per 100.000 men. Moreover, there are alarming predictions that the number of people who will be living beyond diagnostics will have been as high as 19 million people by 2024. Cancer diagnostics and treatment have cost the US about $125 billion back in 2010 and this sum is likely to raise by another $31 billion in 2020.
Fortunately, scientists have been actively working on studying marijuana’s capacity to deal with cancer. Dr. Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist and a member of a research team of Complutense University of Madrid, has been studying anti-tumoral effect of cannabinoids, the main active component of cannabis currently known to us, for the last decade. ‘Cannabinoids were very potent in reducing tumor growth.’ she says. The team has performed a number of experiments applying cannabinoids to animal models of brain and breast tumors, that also happen to be among the most widespread forms of cancer in the US. The result has had extremely positive outcomes. ‘Cells can die in different ways, and after cannabinoid treatment they were dying in the ‘clean’ way. They were committing suicide. Which is something you really want when you have an anti-tumoral drug’, Dr. Sanchez concluded.
Such an effect is attributed to the fact that our own body produces the same substance that has been proven to be an acting element derived from marijuana: endocannabinoids. Before that, researchers have found that we have receptors that unknown-at-the-time endocannabinoids bind to, thus performing a number of important biological functions. This thought was the one that pushed scientists to look for probable healing properties of cannabis a few decades ago. So, cannabinoids are perfectly natural for our system and that is probably why application of the substance of the same kind, though plant-derived, has had such promising results.
The main issue with cancer therapy up until now is that the kinds that we have make general negative impact on all our systems, particularly immune system. With cannabinoids, this outcome seems to no longer be a problem. Talking about this substance, Dr. Sanchez points out that they ‘target specifically tumor cells, they don’t have any toxic effect on normal, non-tumoral cells’.
However, nowadays marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, which means that it stays heavily regulated and, despite the fact that its medicinal and even recreational use is gradually being legalized by separate states, there is still a long way to go before a thorough medically approved treatment approach will be worked out.