Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Acid Dreams author Martin A. Lee’s new book Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana — Medical, Recreational, and Scientific (Simon and Schuster, 2012):
Peer-reviewed scientific studies in several countries show THC and other compounds found only in marijuana are effective not only for cancer symptom management (pain, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and so on), but they confer a direct antitumoral effect as well.
Animal experiments conducted by Manuel Guzmán at Madrid’s Complutense University in the late 1990s revealed that a synthetic cannabinoid injected directly into a malignant brain tumor could eradicate it. Reported in Nature Medicine , this remarkable finding prompted additional studies in Spain and elsewhere that confirmed the anticancer properties of marijuana-derived compounds. Guzmán’s team administered pure THC via a catheter into the tumors of nine hospitalized patients with glioblastoma (an aggressive form of brain cancer) who had failed to respond to standard therapies. This was the first clinical trial assessing the antitumoral action of cannabinoids on human beings, and the results, published in the British Journal of Cancer , were very promising. THC treatment was associated with significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in all test subjects.
Guzmán and his colleagues found that THC and its synthetic emulators selectively killed tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. No Big Pharma chemotherapy drugs could induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells without trashing the whole body. Up to 90 percent of advanced cancer patients suffer cognitive dysfunction from “chemo brain,” a common side effect of corporate cancer meds that indiscriminately destroy brain matter, whereas cannabinoids are free-radical scavengers that protect brain tissue and stimulate brain cell growth.
There is mounting evidence that cannabinoids may “represent a new class of anticancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis [the formation of new blood vessels] and the metastatic spreading of cancer cells,” according to the scientific journal Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry . Studies from scientists around the world have documented the anticancer properties of cannabinoid compounds for various malignancies, including (but not limited to):
• Prostate cancer. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the administration of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN-55,212–2, a CB-1and CB-2 agonist, inhibited prostate cancer cell growth and also induced apoptosis.
• Colon cancer. British researchers demonstrated that THC triggers cell death in tumors of the colon, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
• Pancreatic cancer. Spanish and French scientists determined that cannabinoids selectively increased apoptosis in pancreatic cell lines and reduced the growth of tumor cells in animals, while ignoring normal cells.
• Breast cancer. Scientists at the Pacific Medical Centers in San Francisco found that THC and other plant cannabinoids inhibited human breast cancer cell proliferation and metastasis and shrank breast cancer tumors. 1.3 million women worldwide are diagnosed yearly with breast cancer and a half million succumb to the disease.
• Cervical cancer. German researchers at the University of Rostock reported that THC and a synthetic cannabinoid suppressed the invasion of human cervical carcinoma into surrounding tissues by stimulating the body’s production of TIMP-1, a substance that helps healthy cells resist cancer.
• Leukemia. Investigators at St. George’s University and Bartholomew’s Hospital in London found that THC acts synergistically with conventional antileukemia therapies to enhance the effectiveness of anti-cancer agents in vitro (in a test tube or petri dish). Scientists had previously shown that THC and cannabidiol were both potent inducers of apoptosis in leukemic cell lines.
• Stomach cancer. According to Korean researchers at the Catholic Uni- versity in Seoul, WIN-55,212–2, the synthetic cannabinoid, reduced the proliferation of stomach cancer cells.