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Before we start, a brief note. In research, they use synthetic cannabinoids. These are completely safe, high quality, pure versions of the same molecules found in the cannabis plant itself. There are also ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ sprayed onto plant matter in an attempt to make ‘synthetic cannabis’. Unlike the cannabinoids used in research, these are unregulated and may not be related to the cannabis compounds in any way but by name. It’s important not to confuse these two, as the latter is responsible for deaths, while the first is showing great promise in treating many diseases.
Because non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the “leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide”, there is considerable pressure to find ways of preventing and curing the disease. Cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, are known to be involved in around half of NSCLC cancers. CB1 and CB2 are part of the endocannabinoid system and are affected by cannabinoids, most notably THC and CBD both of which can be found in Cannabis Sativa.
In this study, the authors found that CB agonists reduced chemotaxis (cell movement), chemoinvasion (the movement of cells across membranes), tumour growth and metastasis. Lung cancer often kills when it has metastasized to other parts of the body and metastasis was significantly reduced in 50% of patients in this trial, raising the hopes for effective treatment.
These effects, if reproduced in large-scale studies, could provide novel and tolerable therapies.
CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors are involved in lung cancer growth and spread. The endocannabinoid system is involved in many bodily processes but its role in cancer has only recently started to be investigated. The two best known receptors, CB1 and CB2, are involved in signaling, regulation, and metabolism, and also it appears in cancer.
In 24% of NSCLC patients, expression of CB1 receptors was found. In 55% of patients, the CB2 receptor was being expressed. This implies that CB1 and CB2 are playing important roles in lung cancer.
When NSCLC patients were treated with CB1/CB2 and CB2 agonists, it was found that they limited the movement of cancerous cells, which is a crucial part of cancer’s growth and spread. Migration of cells was also reduced via the focal adhesion complex. Alongside limiting the movement of cancerous cells, CB1 and CB2 agonists “significantly inhibited in vivo tumor growth and lung metastasis” in around 50% of patients.
Vascularization (the adding of blood supply vessels to tissues) in NSCLCs was reduced when CB1 and CB2 agonists were applied, and the proliferation of these cells was also inhibited. It is unclear how.
All this implicates the role of the endocannabinoid system in NSCLC and potentially other cancers. Until this study, these results have only been seen in vitro, or in laboratories, this study has found that “CB1/CB2 synthetic agonists significantly inhibited NSCLC migration and growth in vitro and in vivo”. That these results are seen in humans is particularly hopeful for the next round of studies.
Cannabinoids are easily available, cheap, and tolerable drugs that are found primarily in the cannabis plant. As the study points out, recent studies have found that “non-psychoactive synthetic cannabinoids possess anti-tumor effects”, but their exact method of action has not been established. This study aimed to establish in part what and how the CB1 and CB2 receptors were acted upon by synthetic cannabinoids.
Because cannabinoids are largely tolerable and cheap, they offer a potential cancer therapy that does not produce severe side effects, unlike most chemotherapies.
The abundance of non-psychoactive, tolerable, and safe cannabinoids in the cannabis plant make it an ideal source of cannabinoids for further research and treatment. The existing safety profile of cannabis is favorable to many chemotherapies, and indeed it is often used to treat the nausea and discomfort caused by chemotherapy.
These are early days and a great deal of research needs to be carried out before which cannabinoids are effective and how to use them can be established.
This paper lays the ground for future research into lung cancer treatments by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide so any tolerable and safe treatments that are developed will be welcomed with open arms. The affordability and availability of cannabis and cannabinoids makes them especially suited to this role.
It is too early to draw solid conclusions, but the future of the endocannabinoid system and lung cancer looks hopeful.1940-6207.CAPR-10-0181.full
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