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Hemp Can Fight Cancer, Too, Reveal Scientists in New Cannabis Study

Not all marijuana-derived drugs need to get you high.

With one and a half million new cases diagnosed each year, scientists are on a continuous hunt for more effective means to fight cancer. The urgency of the search has led them to explore more unorthodox substances, like marijuana and viagra, as potential treatments for the disease. Their endeavors have paid off: As researchers reported Monday, it turns out that hemp — a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant — might also be effective in treating certain types of cancer.

While the hemp plant has been used medicinally for centuries, modern scientists had to stop exploring its positive properties after the Controlled Substances Act went into effect in 1970. This policy categorized all forms of cannabis as Schedule 1 drugs even though hemp doesn’t have psychoactive properties or cause addiction. Those laws are slightly more relaxed now, and scientists have found that what hemp likely can do is become a plant-based treatment for ovarian cancer. In a new abstract presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers from Sullivan University showed that hemp has anti-cancer properties that can slow down the spread of the disease.

“Our findings from this research, as well as prior research, show that KY-hemp slows ovarian cancer comparable to or even better than the current ovarian cancer drug Cisplatin,” co-author and Sullivan University College of Pharmacy graduate student Chase Turner explained in a statement released Monday. “Since Cisplatin exhibits high toxicity, we anticipate that hemp would carry less side effects.”

KY-hemp is an extract of a strain of hemp grown in Kentucky. It was chosen because, like marijuana, hemp contains the active ingredients cannabidiol (CBD) and very small amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Previous studies have shown these components are therapeutically valuable. According to the American Cancer Society, CBD can treat seizures and reduce anxiety, while THC can relieve pain and nausea — side effects of the disease that cancer patients need to manage. In line with this research, the new study shows that hemp is useful in mitigating some of the effects of ovarian caner.

In this new study, scientists tested hemp’s interaction with cancer in two parts. In the first experiment, they added various doses of the KY-hemp extract to cultured ovarian cells. Doing so resulted in a significant slowing of cell migration, suggesting to the researchers that the hemp extract could help slow down the spread of cancer to other parts of the body via a process called metastasis.

The second experiment was designed to test KY-hemp’s protective effects, specifically against ovarian cancer. Here they determined that when introduced into cultured ovarian cancer cells, KY-hemp slowed the secretion of a compound called interleukin IL-1 beta. Interleukins are cellular messenger molecules that, when working correctly, can regulate the immune response. But they can also overstimulate inflammation, a process that has been linked previously to cancer progression.

The KY-hemp slowed down the secretion of IL-1 beta, leading the scientists to hypothesize there’s a biological mechanism within the extraction that has anti-cancer effects. In future experiments, they plan on testing the extract on mice with ovarian cancer and on other culture cancer cells in order to “learn more about how it leads to cancer cell death.”

Hemp contains only 0.3 percent or less of THC compared to the five to 20 percent range found within marijuana plants, so it’s an attractive alternative for scientists looking for a cure that doesn’t have addictive and psychoactive properties. As one of the first on hemp’s cancer-fighting properties, the current study research adds to the list of uses for industrial hemp — which its advocates say bolsters the need to make hemp universally legal.

That process is underway but not complete yet: In 2014, former President Barack Obama included a provision in the Farm Bill that allowed universities and state departments to grow industrial hemp for agricultural and research purposes. Today, there’s a bipartisan effort to kick hemp off the controlled substances list entirely and legalize it as an agricultural commodity. That’s good news for farmers, and for cancer researchers, too.

Interested in marijuana research? Check out this video next:

Not all marijuana-derived drugs need to get you high.

Cannabis, CBD oil and cancer

Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. It affects people differently. It can make you feel relaxed and chilled but it can also make you feel sick, affect your memory and make you feel lethargic. CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis.

Summary:

  • Cannabis has been used for centuries recreationally and as a medicine.
  • It is illegal to possess or supply cannabis as it is a class B drug.
  • Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer.
  • There are anti sickness medicines that contain man-made substances of cannabis.

What are cannabis and cannabinoids?

Cannabis is a plant. It is known by many names including marijuana, weed, hemp, grass, pot, dope, ganja and hash.

The plant produces a resin that contains a number of substances or chemicals. These are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can have medicinal effects on the body.
The main cannabinoids are:

  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)

THC is a psychoactive substance that can create a ‘high’ feeling. It can affect how your brain works, changing your mood and how you feel.

CBD is a cannabinoid that may relieve pain, lower inflammation and decrease anxiety without the psychoactive ‘high’ effect of THC.

Different types of cannabis have differing amounts of these and other chemicals in them. This means they can have different effects on the body.

Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK. This means that it is illegal to have it, sell it or buy it.

CBD oil, cannabis oil and hemp oil

There are different types of oil made from parts of the cannabis plant. Some are sold legally in health food stores as a food supplement. Other types of oil are illegal.

CBD oil comes from the flowers of the cannabis plant and does not contain the psychoactive substance THC. It can be sold in the UK as a food supplement but not as a medicine. There is no evidence to support its use as a medicine.

Cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves and stalks of the cannabis plant. Cannabis oil often contains high levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC. Cannabis oil is illegal in the UK.

Hemp oil comes from the seeds of a type of cannabis plant that doesn’t contain the main psychoactive ingredient THC. Hemp seed oil is used for various purposes including as a protein supplement for food, a wood varnish and an ingredient in soaps.

Why people with cancer use it

Cannabis has been used medicinally and recreationally for hundreds of years.

There has been a lot of interest into whether cannabinoids might be useful as a cancer treatment. The scientific research done so far has been laboratory research, with mixed results, so we do not know if cannabinoids can treat cancer in people.

Results have shown that different cannabinoids can:

  • cause cell death
  • block cell growth
  • stop the development of blood vessels – needed for tumours to grow
  • reduce inflammation
  • reduce the ability of cancers to spread

Scientists also discovered that cannabinoids can:

  • sometimes encourage cancer cells to grow
  • cause damage to blood vessels

Cannabinoids have helped with sickness and pain in some people.

Medical cannabis

This means a cannabis based product used to relieve symptoms.

Some cannabis based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. The following medicines are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms.

Nabilone (Cesamet)

Nabilone is a drug developed from cannabis. It is licensed for treating severe sickness from chemotherapy that is not controlled by other anti sickness drugs. It is a capsule that you swallow whole.

Sativex (Nabiximols)

Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine. It is licensed in the UK for people with Multiple Sclerosis muscle spasticity that hasn’t improved with other treatments. Sativex is a liquid that you spray into your mouth.

Researchers are looking into Sativex as a treatment for cancer related symptoms.

How you have it

Cannabis products can be smoked, vaporized, ingested (eating or drinking), absorbed through the skin (in a patch) or as a cream or spray.

CBD oil comes as a liquid or in capsules.

Side effects

Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • blood pressure problems
  • drowsiness
  • mood changes
  • memory problems

Cannabis that contains high levels of THC can cause panic attacks, hallucinations and paranoia.

There are also many cannabis based products available online without a prescription. The quality of these products can vary. It is impossible to know what substances they might contain. They could potentially be harmful to your health and may be illegal.

Research into cannabinoids and cancer

We need more research to know if cannabis or the chemicals in it can treat cancer.

Clinical trials need to be done in large numbers where some patients have the drug and some don’t. Then you can compare how well the treatment works.

Many of the studies done so far have been small and in the laboratory. There have been a few studies involving people with cancer.

Cancer pain

There are trials looking at whether Sativex can help with cancer pain that has not responded to other painkillers.

The results of one trial showed that Sativex did not improve pain levels. You can read the results of the trial on our clinical trials website.

Cancer nausea and vomiting

A cannabis based medicine, Nabilone, is a treatment for nausea and vomiting.

A Cochrane review in 2015 looked at all the research available looking into cannabis based medicine as a treatment for nausea and sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer. It reported that many of the studies were too small or not well run to be able to say how well these medicines work. They say that they may be useful if all other medicines are not working.

Other research

A drug called dexanabinol which is a man made form of a chemical similar to that found in cannabis has been trialled in a phase 1 trial. This is an early trial that tries to work out whether or not the drug works in humans, what the correct dose is and what the side effects might be. The results are not available yet. You can read about the trial on our clinical trials database.

Word of caution

Cannabis is a class B drug and illegal in the UK.

There are internet scams where people offer to sell cannabis preparations to people with cancer. There is no knowing what the ingredients are in these products and they could harm your health.
Some of these scammers trick cancer patients into buying ‘cannabis oil’ which they then never receive.

You could talk with your cancer specialist about the possibility of joining a clinical trial. Trials can give access to new drugs in a safe and monitored environment.

More information

The science blog on our website has more information about cannabis and cancer.

Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis. Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer.