Here's What Marijuana Does to Breast Cancer

June 30th 2015

It's not necessarily news that cannabis may be helpful in treating cancer, specifically breast cancer, but research is building to support that theory. Now, researchers are gaining a more nuanced understanding of how cannabis can help treat these cancers.

According to research from the California Pacific Medical Research Center published last year, CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, can help inhibit metastasis in breast cancer cells. Metastasis is a tumor's ability to spread throughout the body.

"We have found [CBD] inhibits key genes involved in tumor progression and metastasis," Dr. Sean McAllister, a lead research in the study, told ATTN:.

McAllister claims CBD appears to inhibit the Id-1 and Akt genes, which have been known to play a role in the progress of tumor growth. McAllister and his fellow researchers have studied this concept for years, with their first published work appearing in 2007. McAllister explained to media outlets at the time that treatments such as chemotherapy can be effective for some patients, but they are not always effective for everyone. Beyond that, intense chemotherapy treatments can come with crippling side effects like pain and vomiting.

"[CBD] has a very low toxicity profile whereas standard cancer treatments are highly toxic," McAllister said. "The data, however, shows cannabinoids are most effective when combined with standard first-line agents." He believes compounds like CBD may be best used in tandem with other traditional methods.

Breast cancer is a dangerous and prevalent disease. It is believed one in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. The prevalence in men is only around one in 1,000. About 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,290 cases of noninvasive breast cancer are expected to appear in the U.S. by the end of this year. Studies have shown certain cannabinoid receptors are "overexpressed on tumor cells," especially tumor cells found in breast and lung cancers, which means they may be more susceptible to cannabinoid-based treatments.

CBD could be effective in targeting many forms of cancer and is potentially most effective in cancers "driven by" the genes previously mentioned, Id-1 and Akt, McAllister said.

In the years since publishing their research, much progress has been made, but the team is still working out the finer details of how this cancer therapy could be useful.

"CBD has been shown to be effective at inhibiting tumor progression in a variety of preclinical cancer models," McAllister said. "We are currently now trying to determine which tumors respond best to the treatment in hopes of determining which cancer patient would respond best to treatment with cannabinoids."

McAllister and his team are also not alone in this kind of research. Aside from studying CBD for cancer treatments, other researchers are looking at how THC can be used. As you may know, THC is the compound in cannabis that is recognized for getting people high. Research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry last year found the right dosage of pure THC may be effective for shrinking cancer cells found in some tumors.

"THC, the major active component of marijuana, has anti-cancer properties," Dr Peter McCormick, a scientist from the University of East Anglia and a lead researcher in the study, said in a statement last year. "This compound is known to act through a specific family of cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors." The team was able to identify some of the specific receptors involved, which means they will soon be able to understand how THC helps kill certain cancer cells. As Cannabis research grows, soon it may help kill off some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

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