I was recently inspired to write something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I notice in the popular literature, and even in the research, we really don’t see how cannabis kills cancer. I wanted to be able to write a one page piece on How It Works that anyone could understand in order to have confidence with this process that has generated a wide range of opinions.~Dennis
How Do Cannabinoids Kill Cancer?
There is a plentiful supply of research articles and personal testaments that show the efficacy of cannabis effecting cancer remission. However, only a few point to the mechanism by which the cancer cells die. To understand this better we need to know what metabolic processes provide life to the cells.
There are two structures in most cells that sustain life; one is the mitochondria, and the other is the endoplasmic reticulum. The mitochondria primarily produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that provides the necessary energy. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a loosely bound envelope around the cell nucleus that synthesizes metabolites and proteins directed by the nuclear DNA that nourish and sustain the cell.
Let us look first at tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and observe that THC is a natural fit for the CB1 cannabinoid receptor on the cancer cell surface. When THC hits the receptor, the cell generates ceramide that disrupts the mitochondria, closing off energy for the cell.
Disruption of the mitochondria releases cytochrome c and reactive oxygen species into the cytosol, hastening cell death. It is notable that this process is specific to cancer cells. Healthy cells have no reaction to THC at the CB1 receptor. The increase in ceramide also disrupts calcium metabolism in the mitochondria, completing the demise to cell death.
The other cannabinoid we know is effective in killing cancer cells is cannabidiol (CBD). The primary job of CBD in the cancer cell is to disrupt the endoplasmic reticulum through wrecking of the calcium metabolism, pushing calcium into the cytosol. This always results in cell death. Another pathway for CBD to effect cancer cell death is the Caspase Cascade, which breaks down proteins and peptides in the cell. When this happens the cell cannot survive. Again, these processes are specific to cancer cells, no normal cells are affected.
1. The Journal of Neuroscience, February 18, 2009 • 29(7):2053–2063 • 2053
Cannabidiol Targets Mitochondria to Regulate Intracellular Calcium Levels.
Duncan Ryan, Alison J. Drysdale, Carlos Lafourcade, Roger G. Pertwee, and Bettina Platt.
School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, United Kingdom.
2. Mol Cancer Ther July 2011 10; 1161
Cannabidiol Induces Programmed Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells by Coordinating the Cross-talk between Apoptosis and Autophagy
Division of Experimental Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.