Scientists working in the UK have revealed that cannabis has the potential to destroy leukemia cells.
The team – based at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry in London – have followed up on their previous findings that the main active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has the potential to be used effectively against some forms of cancer.
Use of cannabis as a therapeutic agent continues to be controversial due to its psychoactive side effects and consequent legal status, however, leader of the team, Dr Wai Man Liu, explains: “It is important to stress that these cannabis-like substances are far removed from the cannabis that is smoked. These novel compounds have been specifically designed to be free of the psychoactive features, whilst maintaining anti-cancer action.”
THC has previously been shown to attack cancer cells by interfering with important growth-processing pathways, however its mechanism of doing so has remained a mystery. Now, Dr Liu and his colleagues, using microarray technology – allowing them to simultaneously detect changes in more than 18,000 genes in cells treated with THC – have begun to uncover the existence of processes through which THC can kill cancer cells and potentially promote survival.
The researchers hope that the findings will provide a crucial step towards the development of new therapies for many types of cancer. Dr Liu said: “Ultimately, understanding the fundamental mechanisms of these compounds will provide us with insights into developing new drugs that can be used to effectively treat cancers.”