Cannabis shows therapeutic promise in four major medical conditions: epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, pain, and cancer. Unfortunately, high-quality human studies on cannabis and cancer are lacking. However, pre-clinical research has been very positive for many forms of cancer, the latest of which is Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Study finds positive results for HCC liver cancer
HCC, a form of liver cancer, is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. It is also the most common type of liver cancer.
Viral hepatitis and alcohol abuse both drastically increase the risk of developing HCC. Though, the liver, in general, is highly susceptible to cancers, especially metastatic cancers.
All blood is circulated and cleaned by the organ, which means that the liver is exposed to a wide variety of toxins and harmful debris throughout its entire life.
After early-stage diagnosis, many patients face an expected survival rate of five years. To make matters worse, there aren’t many effective treatments available for this form of cancer.
Some types of targeted therapy are available, however, chemotherapy and radiation remain the most common treatments. There is a desperate need for better, more effective options.
Fortunately, Chinese researchers are looking into alternative approaches for treating the disease.
In 2015, Chinese scientists tested a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN55, 212-2 against HCC tumor cells. The cannabinoid is a man-made model of THC, the primary psychoactive in cannabis. The tumor cells were cultured and treated outside of the body.
How did the cannabinoid work?
When the researchers applied the cannabinoid to the cells, it seemed to stop the growth and division of the tumor cells. The cannabinoid stopped the development of the cancer cells by activating a special cell receptor on the tumor.
It engaged the cannabinoid receptor 2, which is a site that acts sort of like a lock, waiting for specific instructions from a chemical trigger.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, cannabinoid receptors got their name from the cannabis plant. Researchers discovered psychoactive THC in the late 1960s. However, the way THC engages the body wasn’t discovered fro another two decades.
The medical implications of this finding are incredible. Since the original discovery, researchers have found that the CB2 receptor is mostly expressed on immune cells.
As the HCC study suggests, drugs that target the CB2 receptor may mean big breakthroughs in immune-modulating drugs.
The recent study found that the cannabis compound halted tumor development while the cells were in the early stages, while they were preparing to divide.
Their cell line experiment was so successful, that the study authors concluded,
Based on these data, we suggest that cananbinoid receptor agonists should be considered as novel targets for the management of HCC.
For decades, medical scientists and doctors have been searching for better cancer treatments. Though they’ve been on a hunt for years, there are still few options other than chemotherapy and radiation.
The breakthroughs in cannabis research are indeed promising, and the herb sure deserves attention as a potential cancer treatment.