Inhaled Cannabis May Keep Brain Cancer in Remission

A recent medical case-report highlights a striking association between inhaled Cannabis and anti-tumor effects in young adults with brain cancer.

This gives scientists new evidence that the chemical compounds from the Cannabis plant (known as cannabinoids) may have significant anti-cancer effects in humans.

Mansoor Foroughi PhD is the lead author of a new paper that suggests the possibility of Cannabis inhalation in the spontaneous regression of gliomas.

The MRI images provided in his study demonstrate that the tumors of two patients (11 and 13 years old) did not increase in size after treatment, constituting a state of remission. (To be in remission, a tumor simply must not increase in size.)

The 13 year-old patient showed up at the hospital suffering from increasing headaches, nausea, and vomiting. She had prolonged memory problems and began to deteriorate rapidly.

An emergency MRI scan revealed a tumor mass in her brain. She underwent a craniotomy and most of the tumor mass was removed. Her doctors then followed the remaining tumor mass closely with subsequent MRI scans.

The authors note that this patient volunteered that she began smoking cannabis at age 14, after her diagnosis, and continued almost daily from age 16 up to 19 years of age.

As they scanned her brain over time, the tumor mass became smaller with each checkup. According to the study, the tumor in the teenager had almost completely disappeared six years after the operation.

The paper states, “The regular use of Cannabis coincided with the time course of radiological tumor regression.”  This patient received no further medication or medical treatment. The biggest variable in her remission seemed to beCannabis Inhalation.

This was not a completely unique case. The 11 year-old patient in the same report arrived at the hospital with a history of headaches that gradually became worse and ultimately lead to nausea, vomiting and confusion. An MRI revealed a tumor mass and she underwent a craniotomy. A small remnant of the cancer was left behind, later confirmed by a follow up MRI. Over the next three years, the tumor would demonstrate the features of regression.

Then, around the time the patient was 14, the tumor began to regress. Finally, six years post-surgery, the tumor remnant had nearly disappeared.

The authors write, “The only significant feature in the history was the consumption of Cannabis via inhalation, on average three times a week. This occurred in the last 3 years of follow up, namely between the ages of 14 and 17, and coincided with the time course of the regression of the residual tumor.”

Foroughi and his team suggest there may be plant synergy and recommend studying the whole Cannabis plant,“since any beneficial effect may not be caused by one compound, molecule, or cannabinoid alone.” This theory is supported by previous research;  published evidence shows that cannabinoids have an enhanced anti-tumor activity when they are applied in combination.

The report concludes that “more research may be appropriate to investigate the therapeutic use of these substances” and goes on to say, “Such research will be difficult to achieve because Cannabis is illegal in many jurisdictions.”

There has never been a clinical trial studying the anti-cancer effects of smoked marijuana. However, there has been one clinical trial with pure Delta-9 THC and brain cancer. Several patients in Spain were admitted to a study focused on the issue of safety of using cannabinoids in the clinic. The patients were administered Delta-9 THC by direct injection into the site of the tumor. A slight reduction in cancer proliferation was reported but the treatment did not cure any of the patients.

The authors write, “Cannabinoid delivery was safe and could be achieved without overt psychoactive effects.

Since this was a pilot trial on the safety of injected THC, the most important point is that none of the patients died during the study and no serious adverse effects were reported. A review of the evidence can be read here and a follow-up study is being conducted in Spain.

Can marijuana contribute to the regression or remission of certain cancers? Given the slow progress of clinical trials for whole plant Cannabis, it can be frustrating waiting for years, even decades, trying to answer these vital questions. But for the two young women with brain cancer in Dr. Foroughi’s report, a shift to a cannabis lifestyle may have made a difference.

Jahan Marcu is currently investigating the pharmacology of cannabinoid receptors. He was working at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute when exciting discoveries were made showing enhanced anti-cancer effects with THC and CBD from the Cannabis plant. The findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. In 2009 he received the Billy Martin Award from the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). Jahan is currently the vice-chair the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board at Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

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