Through a mechanism that causes the mitochondria to stop making energy, THC leads to cancer cell death.
There is a lot of new research surrounding cannabis and cancer. And, perhaps just as significant, the medical community is willing to listen to cancer patients describe their symptoms as lessened when using cannabis – and not just those related to the side effects of chemo treatments.
More and more studies back up these anecdotal reports to demonstrate that CBD and THC (among other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids yet to be fully discovered) are critical to the fight against cancer. THC helps the immune system find cancer cells and encourages apoptosis, while CBD helps slow or even prevent metastasis.
cancer patient mom playing with daughter
Image Credit: Jose Luis Carrascocosa
With funding and cannabis scheduling the way it is, cancer and cannabis research hasn’t been as prolific in North America as it has been overseas. But this is beginning to change.
Following the release of preliminary data, like the Virginia Study, published in 1975, the American government shut down funding into cannabis-cancer research for twenty years. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the US National Toxicology Program rediscovered the positive impact of cannabis on cancer.
Image Credit: Elnur
Unfortunately, funding opportunities for cannabis research remain limited. There are many suggested reasons for this, but most cannabis advocates believe that Big Pharma financial incentives to key figures in the government influence funding and research for medicine. Permission is still required for all cannabis research, and as political commentators like John Oliver explain, that can take years. Once permission is gained, it can still take another several years for the study to be complete.
Animation showing stages of apoptosis
Image Credit: Kateryna Kon
Cannabis Kills Cancer
Well, this goes back to the endocannabinoid system, and the CB1/CB2 receptors. These cannabinoid receptors are triggered by phytocannabinoids found in cannabis. There is a theory being tossed about research circles that disease comes from a deficiency in endocannabinoids. If this is the case, it makes sense that cannabis is able to treat a wide variety of conditions.
CB1 receptors are concentrated in the nervous system, including the brain; CB2 receptors are found throughout the body organs and as part of the immune system.
Cancer cell in human body
Image Credit: Crevis
When THC binds to the CB1 or CB2 receptors (on a cancer cell) it causes the increased production of ceramide, a type of lipid commonly found in skin care products. It is the ceramide that drives cell death. A healthy cell will not increase ceramide in response to THC, but a diseased cell will.
Watch this time-lapse video of THC killing cancer cells but leaving healthy cells alone. This 30 seconds has been condensed from 20 hours.
As ceramide increases, it makes the mitochondria more permeable to cyctochrome (an important protein in energy production). Cytochrome leaves the mitochondria and the cell can no longer make energy = death.
We are only at the very beginning of understanding how these mechanisms work; how cannabis works to kill cancer. What we do know, at this time, is that cannabis is a ruthless killer of cancer cells, but always leaves healthy cells alone.