While the idea that “cannabis kills cancer” has always been somewhat a part of the zeitgeist, something that hippies and stoners and health gurus talk about when listing their reasons for wanting to legalize the plant, the science has never been proven — at least until today. According to a statement released by The University of Newcastle in Australia, researchers have conducted laboratory experiments showing that modified forms of medical cannabis can, in fact, kill cancerous cells. The potential is enormous, proving that cannabis could be a life-saving drug.
Cancer researcher Dr. Matt Dun worked in collaboration with biotech company Australian Natural Therapeutics Group for three years, eventually producing a plant with one percent THC and high concentrations of CBD or cannabidiol. Scientists have named the plant Eve.
“ANTG wanted me to test it against cancer, so we initially used leukemia cells and were really surprised by how sensitive they were,” Dr. Dun said in a statement. “At the same time, the cannabis didn’t kill normal bone marrow cells, nor normal healthy neutrophils [white blood cells].”
“We then realized there was a cancer-selective mechanism involved, and we’ve spent the past couple of years trying to find the answer,” he continued.
After running numerous tests on different variations of cannabis, including those with high concentrations of THC and those with high concentrations of CBD, researchers found that the CBD was more effective in the end. Their work primarily focused on both leukemia and pediatric brainstem glioma. Dr. Dun has also looked at the recent literature on the subject, reviewing over 150 different studies in a paper he wrote called “Can Hemp Help?”
“There are trials around the world testing cannabis formulations containing THC as a cancer treatment, but if you’re on that therapy, your quality of life is impacted,” Dr. Dun said in a statement. “You can’t drive, for example, and clinicians are justifiably reluctant to prescribe a child something that could cause hallucinations or other side-effects.
“The CBD variety looks to have greater efficacy, low toxicity, and fewer side-effects, which potentially makes it an ideal complementary therapy to combine with other anti-cancer compounds,” he continued.
In the next phase of the study on cancer and cannabis, researchers will look at the sensitivity of different cells and try to determine what affects them.
“We need to understand the mechanism so we can find ways to add other drugs that amplify the effect, and week by week we’re getting more clues. It’s really exciting and important if we want to move this into a therapeutic,” Dr. Dun said in a statement.
“Hopefully our work will help to lessen the stigma behind prescribing cannabis, particularly varieties that have minimal side-effects, especially if used in combination with current standard-of-care therapies and radiotherapy. Until then, though, people should continue to seek advice from their usual medical practitioner,” he continued.
ANTG and HMRI funded the study through the Sandi Rose Foundation, and both were excited over the results.
“We are very pleased to see three years of collaboration with UON and HMRI deliver such exciting findings in the fight against cancer. ANTG remains committed to its patient-centric mission of understanding the massive therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis," Matthew Cantelo, CEO, Australian Natural Therapeutics Group, said in a statement.
"We thank Matt Dun and the team for such encouraging insights into anti-cancer properties of our Australian grown CBD strain, Eve,” he continued. “We are looking forward to moving forward to the next stage of the study and continuing to develop effective, safe and consistent cannabis medicines for Australian patients.”