- Cannabinoids had a ‘significant’ effect on the death of cancer cells in leukaemia
- Combination of the compounds and chemo had better results than chemo alone
- Results were greater when using cannabinoids after chemotherapy
- Cannabinoids are ‘a very exciting prospect in oncology,’ says study author
- However, Cancer Research UK warned cancer patients not to use cannabinoids
- The charity and the researchers say more research is needed
A compound in cannabis is ‘significantly’ effective in destroying cancerous tumours in leukaemia, research suggests.
A new study found that combining existing chemotherapy treatments with cannabinoids – the active chemicals in cannabis – had better results than chemotherapy alone.
The findings suggest that a lower dose of chemotherapy can be used on patients, minimising side effects of the treatment, say researchers.
Furthermore, scientists discovered that order the treatment was administered was crucial – using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in a greater death of the blood cancer cells.
Lead author of the study, Dr Wai Liu, from St George’s, University of London, said: ‘We have shown for the first time that the order in which cannabinoids and chemotherapy are used is crucial in determining the overall effectiveness of this treatment.’
Olivia Newton-John plans to use cannabis oil as part of her treatment for breast cancer
Last week, it was revealed singer Olivia Newton-John plans will use cannabis oil and ‘other natural remedies’ following her second breast cancer diagnosis.
According to her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, the Grease star, 68, has opted to try the controversial substance in addition to modern medicine.
The medical value of cannabis has been hotly debated for years and there are many anecdotal cases reported of people claiming their cancer has been cured by using it.
A number of small studies have found that cannabis or cannabis derivatives may be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy, but research into its possible curative effects on the disease is in its infancy.
But according to Dr Wai Liu, cannabinoids are ‘a very exciting prospect in oncology’.
Dr Wai Liu and his colleagues set out to examine the effects of different combinations of cannabinoids, known more specifically as phytocannabinoids, against leukaemia in the laboratory.
They wanted to test whether existing chemotherapy treatments worked effectively alongside the cannabinoids, and whether using the drugs in a different order had an effect.
In their report, published in the International Journal of Oncology, the team note that phytocannabinoids possess ‘anticancer activity’ when used alone in treatment.
And a number of these compounds have also been shown to combine favourably with each other to kill off leukaemia cells in laboratory tests, they said.
The researchers paired different types of cannabinoids and used them in combination with the common leukemia chemotherapy drugs cytarabine and vincristine.
They discovered using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in greater induction of apoptosis – or death of the cancer cells.
The opposite was true when reversed and cannabinoids were given before chemotherapy.
Dr Wai Liu said: ‘Studies such as ours serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximise a therapeutic effect.’
IRELAND TO LEGALISE MEDICINAL CANNABIS
Ireland is set to legalise the use of cannabis for treating specific medical conditions,
A report commissioned by the Government said the drug could be given to some patients with certain illnesses including multiple sclerosis and severe epilepsy, and to offset the effects of chemotherapy.
The Irish health minister, Simon Harris, said he would support the use of medical cannabis ‘where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective’.
Products that contain cannabis-based ingredient cannabidiol, or CBD – a major a phytocannabinoid – are to be classed as medicines by the UK medicines regulator from this year.
The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had looked at CBD because a number of manufacturing companies had been making ‘overt medicinal claims’ about products.
People using the product in the UK get their supplies online in an unregulated and potentially unsafe market.
The move by the MHRA means manufacturers will now need to demonstrate their CBD products meet safety, quality and effectiveness standards.
In the US, more than two dozen states allow medical use of marijuana.
Federal drug regulators have not approved marijuana itself, but they have allowed man-made, chemically related medicines to treat loss of appetite in people with AIDS, and nausea and vomiting caused by cancer therapy.
What the experts say
Cancer Research UK said it welcomes research into cannabinoids but said the results should be regarded with caution.
Senior science information manager Anna Perman said: ‘This research in cells doesn’t provide evidence that cannabinoids are safe or effective for patients.
‘Researchers have been studying potential cancer-fighting chemicals found in cannabis for a while – but like any new treatment, these should only be used to treat patients once there’s evidence that they improve outcomes.
‘This is not to say that cannabinoids have no future role in cancer treatment, and Cancer Research UK supports clinical trials to treat cancer with cannabinoid drugs.
‘But as it stands, we still need proper trials to know if they are effective, for what types of cancer, and at what dose.’
The researchers themselves say more trials need to be carried out to establish the voracity of their claims.
The charity warned cancer patients against using cannabinoids.
‘This study looked at cannabinoids not cannabis – which is illegal and could interfere with other treatments given to patients.
‘We advise against the use of cannabinoids or any medicine bought on the internet, as these are not regulated and may not be safe.’
Dr Wai Liu’s team pointed out that when scientists use cannabis in the lab, they don’t use the whole plant.
‘These extracts are highly concentrated and purified, so smoking marijuana will not have a similar effect,’ said.