Our body has cannabinoid receptors that can attach to cannabinoids, molecules that are produced naturally by us, in the case of endocannabinoids, or by cannabis plants in the case of phytocannabinoids. This endocannabinoid system has emerged as a focus of research; it has the potential to aid in the treatment of a variety of diseases, including cancer. Research has already shown that cannabinoids can help reduce what can be very harsh side effects of therapeutics that target cancer. However, researchers have turned their attention to how cannabinoids might actually be able to fight cancer on their own too. A recent review in the British Journal of Pharmacology addresses what we know about some possible therapeutic applications of cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids have been shown to prevent cancer from growing and invading healthy tissue. These naturally occurring compounds may also stop the supply of blood to tumors, which is how the tumor is supplied with vital nutrients.
Other studies have shown that cannabinoids have anti-cancer effects, and can work with the body’s immune system, enhancing its response to tumor growth, and potentially stopping its spread. Recent work in Frontiers in Immunology noted that the endocannabinoid system has been shown to be an important part of immune system regulation, and can help prevent overwhelming immune responses.
"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," said author Burkhard Hinz, a Professor at Rostock University Medical Center in Germany. "Clinical studies are now urgently needed to investigate the impact of cannabinoids on cancer growth and progression in patients."
Because there is a high potential of benefit and what can be a low-risk profile for most patients, the authors write that the non-psychoactive compounds found in cannabis may be especially beneficial for cancer patients in several ways.
In the video above, David Casarett from the Duke Health System speaks at a TEDMED talk about why marijuana should be considered more often in modern healthcare settings. Hear more about medical marijuana from Mayo Clinic and expert Dr. Jon Ebbert in the following video.