In what seems to be a breakthrough discovery, scientists at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center have found that a compound derived from marijuana might halt the spread of many kinds of aggressive cancer.
“It took us about 20 years of research to figure this out, but we are very excited,”Pierre Desprez, one of the scientists behind the discovery, told The Huff Post. “We want to get started with trials as soon as possible.”
Desprez, a molecular biologist, spent decades studying ID-1, the gene that causes cancer to spread. At the same time, fellow researcher Sean McAllister was studying the effects of Cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-toxic, non-psychoactive chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Finally, the two recearchers collaborated, combining CBD and cells containing high levels of ID-1 in a petri dish.
“What we found was that his Cannabidiol could essentially ‘turn off’ the ID-1,” Desprez told The Huff Post. The cells stopped spreading and returned to normal.
“We likely would not have found this on our own,” he added. “That’s why collaboration is so essential to scientific discovery.”
There have been several similar studies. Cristina Sanchez, a young biologist at Complutense University in Madrid, was studying cell metabolism when she noticed something peculiar. According to The Daily Beast, in 1998, she reported in a European biochemistry journal that THC “induces apoptosis [cell death] in C6 glioma cells,” an aggressive form of brain cancer.
A team of Spanish scientists led by Manuel Guzman conducted the first clinical trial assessing the antitumoral action of THC on human beings. The results were published in 2006 in the British Journal of Pharmacology: THC treatment was associated with significantly reduced tumor cell proliferation in every test subject.
Desprez and McAllister first published a paper about the finding in 2007. Since then, their team has found that CBD works both in the lab and in animals. And now, they’ve found even more good news.
“Cannabidiol offers hope of a non-toxic therapy that could treat aggressive forms of cancer without any of the painful side effects of chemotherapy,” says McAllister, who is seeking support to conduct clinical trials with the marijuana compound on breast cancer patients.
“We’ve found no toxicity in the animals we’ve tested, and Cannabidiol is already used in humans for a variety of other ailments,” he said. Indeed, the compound is used to relieve anxiety and nausea, and, since it is non-psychoactive, does not cause the “high” associated with THC.
“We used injections in the animal testing and are also testing pills,” Desperez said. “But you could never get enough Cannabidiol for it to be effective just from smoking.”
The team has started synthesizing the compound in the lab instead of using the plant in an effort to make it more potent.
“It’s a common practice,” explained Desprez. “But hopefully it will also keep us clear of any obstacles while seeking approval.”