Cannabis can act as a treatment for cancer and boost the immune system, claims a new study.
Researchers say that naturally occurring compounds in the plant can stop cancer cells from spreading and block tumour blood supplies.
Scientists at Rostock University Medical Centre in Germany claimed the benefits following a review of more than 100 studies.
Previous research has shown that cannabis compounds can help lessen side effects of anti-cancer therapies such as nausea and sickness.
The latest study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, found that phytocannabinoids – the most notable compound in cannabis – may be responsible for directly fighting cancer cells.
Researchers say that the human endocannabinoid system – responsible for functions of the brain, endocrine, and immune tissues – can be stimulated positively by Phytocannabinoids.
The compounds are the most notable type of ‘cannabinoid’, and they occur naturally in the cannabis plant, one example is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – which gives the plant its psychoactive properties and gets users ‘high’. This particular compound is monitored as a marker of plant potency in areas of the world where cannabis is legal.
Studies have shown that cannabinoids may stop cancer cells from dividing and invading normal tissue, and they may block the blood supply to tumours.
Some studies also indicate that cannabinoids may enhance the body’s immune response against the growth and spread of tumours.
Data from the previous studies suggested that cannabinoids have effects on different levels of cancer progression, including the proliferation of cancer cells, invasion and chemoresistance.
Researchers observed continuities across the wide range of studies, which showed that cannabis compounds can actively combat cancer cells.
Study author Professor Burkhard Hinz said: “There is still a need for additional anti-cancer drugs.
“In this context accumulating data from preclinical models suggest that cannabinoids elicit anti-cancer effects on several levels of cancer progression.
“Clinical studies are now urgently needed to investigate the impact of cannabinoids on cancer growth and progression in patients.”
Researchers have been limited in previous tests due to the risks posed by the psychoactive, or mental effects of consuming THC.
Nonpsychoactive compounds such as cannabidiol have since gained attention due to established anticancer properties and a favourable ‘risk-to-benefit’ profile.
It is hoped that these compounds will be used in the future to treat cancer – with future studies analysing the effects of cannabis with the combination with chemotherapy.