A world-first trial could prove medical cannabis has the ability to shrink brain tumours.
Cannabis kills brain cancer cells in petri dishes so Australian researchers are embarking on a clinical trial to determine if it kills those cells in live patients too.
Up to 82 patients suffering from glioma, an aggressive form of brain tumor, will be selected to take high THC medicinal cannabis orally for three months, while still undergoing standard treatment.
Gliomas are a common type of brain cancer, accounting for around 45% of cases. Because they have a tendency to grow into normal brain tissue, surgical removal is exceedingly difficult and often bits of tumor remain despite a surgeon’s best efforts, offering the opportunity for the cancer to return or spread to other body sites. This, combined with the fact that this organ is inaccessible to many therapeutic agents, thanks to its protective blood-brain barrier (BBB), means that gliomas are notoriously tricky to treat.
Here’s where cannabis comes in: cannabinoids can rapidly cross the BBB, exerting various effects by mimicking natural substances produced by our body, the endocannabinoids, which stick to and activate so-called cannabinoid receptors. One such effect is their apparent anti-tumor activity, demonstrated in various different cancerous tissues in the lab.
Encouragingly, cannabinoids seem to cause cells that drive glioma progression and recurrence, called glioma-initiating cells, to self-destruct in the lab, a process known as apoptosis. If the substances can do the same things in glioma patients, then scientists are hopeful they may represent a novel way to tackle these cancers. But until scientists conduct proper controlled trials, we won’t know whether this is the case or not.