Cannabis may be the next brain tumor breakthrough drug

The demonization of all things cannabis is slowly changing. Now that marijuana restrictions have been lifted in many areas of the nation, more research studies…

Study finds compound in Cannabis plant can help shrink brain tumors. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The demonization of all things cannabis is slowly changing. Now that marijuana restrictions have been lifted in many areas of the nation, more research studies have been conducted, and the conclusions show that–like many other medicinal plants–cannabis has positive health effects when used correctly.

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The most recent study to shed some light on the medical uses of cannabis comes from University of London, St. George’s. A research team, headed up by Dr. Wai Liu, believes that using cannabis in conjunction with radiotherapy treatment can make certain cancerous brain tumors disappear.

“The results are extremely exciting. The tumors were treated in a variety of ways, either with no treatment, the cannabinoids alone, and irradiation alone or with both the cannabinoids and irradiation at the same time,” he said in a University press release. “Those treated with both irradiation and the cannabinoids saw the most beneficial results and a drastic reduction in size. In some cases, the tumors effectively disappeared in the animals. This augurs well for further research in humans in the future. At the moment this is a mostly fatal disease.”

Brain cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, according to the Society for Neuroscience’s Cancerous brain tumors are often stem cells that have started growing out of control. In order to remove a tumor completely, every cancerous cell needs to be removed because leaving eve one stem cell behind could restart the growth of the tumor.

In other areas of the body, surgeons remove significant margins of additional tissue to make sure cancer has been completely captured. This isn’t possible in the brain; removing healthy brain tissue ultimately affects body function. Not only is it very difficult to surgically remove a brain tumor without damaging the functions of the brain itself, treatments like chemotherapy can cause lasting scars that result in memory, recall and attention deficits.

Due to the complications associated with surgery, brain tumors are usually treated first with non-invasive methods like radiation.

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To attempt to make radiation therapy more successful, researchers added the administration of chemical components of the cannabis plant known as cannabinoids. The National Cancer Institute notes cannabinoids have been tested in a handful of clinical trials and have proven success in the treatment of certain cancer-related symptoms.

This is largely due to cannabinoids’ ability to alter neurological pathways by binding to receptors. Though the press release does not clarify why the addition of cannabinoids to radiation therapy was a successful combination, Liu feels the results justify trying the therapy on humans next.

“The benefits of the cannabis plant elements were known before but the drastic reduction of brain cancers if used with irradiation is something new and may well prove promising for patients who are in gravely serious situations with such cancers in the future,” he said.