“Miracle” Cannabis Oil: May Treat Cancer, But Money and the Law Stand in the Way of Finding Out
First it was a cough. Then it was bronchitis. Then it was time to say goodbye to Michelle Aldrich.
The year 2011 was supposed to be a good one for the 66-year-old. That June, she and her husband, Michael, were feted with a lifetime achievement award by High Times magazine for their four decades of work on marijuana legalization. Yet something was off. She was smoking a lot, maybe more than ever.
And she couldn’t get high.
In the fall of that year — a bad time for the local marijuana movement, as the federal Justice Department began shutting down hundreds of California medical cannabis dispensaries — Aldrich went in to see a series of doctors for what she thought was a flu that just refused to go away.
Cannabis, cannabinoids and cancer – the evidence so far
Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
Virtually all the scientific research investigating whether cannabinoids can treat cancer has been done using cancer cells grown in the lab or animal models. It’s important to be cautious when extrapolating these results up to real live patients, who tend to be a lot more complex than a Petri dish or a mouse.
Through many detailed experiments, handily summarised in this recent article in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer, scientists have discovered that various cannabinoids (both natural and synthetic) have a wide range of effects in the lab, including:
- Triggering cell death, through a mechanism called apoptosis
- Stopping cells from dividing
- Preventing new blood vessels from growing into tumours
- Reducing the chances of cancer cells spreading through the body, by stopping cells from moving or invading neighbouring tissue
- Speeding up the cell’s internal ‘waste disposal machine’ – a process known as autophagy – which can lead to cell death
All these effects are thought to be caused by cannabinoids locking onto the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. It also looks like cannabinoids can exert effects on cancer cells that don’t involve cannabinoid receptors, although it isn’t yet clear exactly what’s going on there.
So far, the best results in the lab or animal models have come from using a combination of highly purified THC and cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid found in cannabis plants that counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC. But researchers have also found positive results using synthetic cannabinoids, such as a molecule called JWH-133.
It’s not all good news though, as there’s also evidence that cannabinoids may also have undesirable effects on cancer.
For example, some researchers have found that although high doses of THC can kill cancer cells, they also harm crucial blood vessel cells, although this may help their anti-cancer effect by preventing blood vessels growing into a tumour. And under some circumstances, cannabinoids can actually encourage cancer cells to grow, or have different effects depending on the dosage and levels of cannabinoid receptors present on the cancer cells. [Edited for clarity and to add reference – KA 27/07/12]
Others have discovered that activating CB2 receptors may actually interfere with the ability of the immune system to recognise and destroy tumour cells, although some scientists have found that certain synthetic cannabinoids may enhance immune defences against cancer.
Furthermore, cancer cells can develop resistance to cannabinoids and start growing again, although this can be got round by blocking a certain molecular pathway in the cells known as ALK.
Combining cannabinoids with other chemotherapy drugs may be a much more effective approach
And yet more research suggests that combining cannabinoids with other chemotherapy drugs may be a much more effective approach. This idea is supported by lab experiments combining cannabinoids with other drugs including gemcitabine andtemozolomide.
As might be expected, whenever research about cannabis or cannabinoids hits the news there is a lot of interest on social media. But often it turns out that the hype don’t realistically reflect the work. For example, this study from researchers at the University of East Anglia was done using cancer cells grown in the lab or transplanted into mice, to try and understand why different levels of purified THC seem to have different effects on cancer cells – something that has been noticed from previous experiments on cannabinoids and cancer cells.
The researchers found that THC seems to work through two different receptor molecules coming together – CB2 and GPR55 – and that high doses slow cancer cells growth while low doses don’t. So they think that designing drugs that make sure the receptors come together in the right way to kill cancer cells could be a good way to harness the potential power of cannabinoids to treat cancer in a much more effective and targeted way.
But while it’s an interesting scientific paper and helps to shed light on the molecular “nuts and bolts” that underpin how some cancer cells may respond to cannabinoids, and could point to ways to make cannabinoid drugs more effective in the future, it certainly doesn’t tell us that cannabis can effectively treat cancer in patients at the moment.
Laetrile / Vitamin B17 Treatment For Cancer
How It Works
Laetrile (i.e. amygdalin or Vitamin B17) therapy is one of the most popular and best known alternative cancer treatments. It is very simple to use and is very effective if used in high enough doses and if the product is of high quality and if it is combined with an effective cancer diet and key supplements (in other words, you need to do your homework to maximize its benefits).
Laetrile works by targeting and killing cancer cells and building the immune system to fend off future outbreaks of cancer. It uses two different methods for killing cancer cells. It involves a strict diet (as do all cancer treatments) and several supplements.
Other common name(s): amygdalin, vitamin B17, Amigdalina B-17
Scientific/medical name(s): mandelonitrile beta-D-gentiobioside (the form found most often in Mexican clinics), mandelonitrile-beta-glucuronide (this is the patented drug Laetrile)
Laetrile is a chemically modified form of amygdalin, a naturally-occurring substance found mainly in the kernels of apricots, peaches, and almonds. However, the terms amygdalin and Laetrile are often used interchangeably. The name Laetrile is also used to describe a closely related and partly man-made substance. Laetrile and amygdalin are promoted as alternative cancer treatments.
Available scientific evidence does not support claims that Laetrile or amygdalin is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. Both contain a small amount of a substance that can be converted to cyanide in the body, and several cases of cyanide poisoning have been linked to the use of Laetrile. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Laetrile as a medical treatment in the United States.
— trutherbot (@trutherbot) January 21, 2015
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