Evidence mounts as a growing number of papers published in scientific journals are establishing that cannabinoids have anti-tumor effects on the cellular level and in animals.
Increasing numbers of people have been using Cannabis “oil” —plant extracts consisting of 50% or more THC and/or CBD— to treat conditions ranging from mild rashes to potentially fatal cancers.
Reports of success are circulating among medical Cannabis users and on the internet. They gain plausibility from a parallel stream of papers published in scientific journals establishing that cannabinoids have anti-tumor effects on the cellular level and in animals.
The anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids were a recurring theme at this year’s meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, and also in a course for physicians presented Oct. 24, 2012, at the University of California San Francisco. One speaker, Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD, described a particularly dramatic case seen by a San Diego colleague: a 90% reduction in the size of an infant’s brain tumor achieved over the course of a year by parents applying hemp oil to the baby’s pacifier before naptime and bedtime.
Aptly dubbed “MMJ13001A” on the UCSF website, the half-day course on cannabinoid medicine included talks by three researchers whose findings about cannabis and cancer have been under-reported, to put it mildly: Stephen Sidney, MD, director of research for Kaiser-Permanente in Northern California; UCLA pulmonologist Donald Tashkin, MD; and Donald Abrams, MD, Chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital.
Some 60 doctors received continuing medical education credits for attending the half-day course at UCSF’s Laurel Heights auditorium, which was organized by the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, with help from Abrams and the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, and reprised the next day in Santa Monica (MMJ13001B).
A very interested auditor at the UCSF session, Michelle Aldrich, had used cannabis oil as a treatment for lung cancer. Donald Abrams, who consulted on Aldrich's case, says, “The fact that Michelle didn’t have cancer that could be located [after using the oil] is a bit unusual in someone who started treatment with an advanced stage. I don’t usually see that in my patients. Did the cannabis oil make a difference? We don’t know because we don’t have a controlled study.”
Abrams has met with a UCSF neurooncologist “to discuss whether or not we should do a clinical trial adding oil to chemo for patients with glioblastoma [a brain tumor that is usually fast-moving and fatal]. Manuel Guzman’s studies have shown that cannabinoids have great potential in treating brain tumors.”
Undoubtedly Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, who grows marijuana for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can produce a uniform, highly concentrated extract for research purposes. But whether or not NIDA will let Abrams have some is uncertain.
Abrams has jumped through bureaucratic hoops before. He has obtained all the necessary approvals and funding to conduct clinical trials involving cannabis, and published his findings in peer-reviewed journals. Because chemotherapy has a measurable benefit, he says, “There’s no way we could get approval for a study that evaluates cannabis oil as a cure for brain tumors without giving patients temolozide [the standard treatment for glioma].”
“A ‘cure’ in cancer means five years of disease-free survival,” Abrams reminds us.
So what Abrams has in mind is “a study of the pharmacokinetic interaction between cannabis oil and temolozide.” Participants would be patients undergoing treatment for glioblastoma. Researchers would measure the level of temolozide in their blood before and after adding cannabis oil to their regimen. The primary objective would be to establish safety —to confirm that large cannabinoid infusions do not interfere with the body’s ability to process temolozide.
Another objective would be to document examples of cannabis oil expediting or promoting tumor reduction. Such a ‘signal’ might justify a trial of cannabis oil on its own.
Abrams does not want to promote false hope. “I do integrative oncology,” he says, “so I hear about ‘miracle cures’ all the time. I hear about about noni juice and graviola and many products. What’s disturbing is to hear people talking about cannabis oil as a ‘cure,’ because a cure in cancer means five years of disease-free survival and people have not been using cannabis oil for five years.
“I think it does a disservice to the cannabis community to make claims that are not supportable. I may be seen as a nay-sayer but I’m not. I say ‘Let’s study it.’”
By Fred Gardner