A team of researchers from St. George’s University of London have found via a study that combining cannabinoids with chemotherapy increases the effectiveness of the anticancer treatment. The lead author even went as far as to claim that cannabinoids are ‘a very exciting prospect in oncology’.  

The study, published in the International Journal of Oncology, confirmed that when chemotherapy is administered alongside these cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, it is ‘significantly’ effective in destroying cancerous tumors in leukemia patients.

Although it is thought that cannabinoids possess anticancer properties by themselves, the researchers noted, when paired with other cannabinoids and chemotherapy – the standard treatment of cancers such as leukemia – the results are far superior than when the components were used individually.

Pairing cannabinoids increases cancer cell death


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Lead author of the study, Dr. Wai Liu, explained that cannabinoids were most effective when used with the common anti-leukaemia drugs cytarabine and vincristine, with the effects of this combination therapy on cell death studied in vitro. Results show a number of cannabinoids could be paired together to generate an effect superior to that achieved if the components were used on their own.

The findings also suggest that when administered with a combination of cannabinoids, toxic chemotherapeutic drugs can be used at a lower dose and possibly with greater effect, thus minimizing side effects. The side effects of chemotherapy are numerous and include fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and lack of appetite.

A number of studies have already shown cannabinoids such as THC and CBD to be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting, and many cancer sufferers claim cannabis assists with their recovery, whether it be in the form of pain relief, appetite regulation, or to reduce nausea and vomiting. Research into cannabis’ full effects on cancer is in its infancy, however at this stage.

Order of administration is crucial

Scientists conducting the study also discovered that order in which the treatment was given to the patient was crucial. While they found that using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in an increased death rate of cancer cells, when cannabinoids were used before chemotherapy, the opposite was true.

“We have shown for the first time that the order in which cannabinoids and chemotherapy are used is crucial in determining the overall effectiveness of this treatment,” said Dr Wai Liu.

The study

Researchers at St George’s were looking at the effects of different combinations of concentrated cannabinoids, known more specifically as phytocannabinoids, against leukemia in a laboratory setting.

They wanted to find out whether commonly used chemotherapy drugs worked better alongside the cannabinoids. They also analyzed whether using the drugs in a different order had a different effect on the subject.

They noted that while cannabinoids displayed “anticancer activity” on their own, a number of these compounds have also been shown to combine effectively with each other in order to kill leukemia cells in previous laboratory tests.

In this study, different types of cannabinoids were paired together and used in conjunction with the common leukemia chemotherapy drugs cytarabine and vincristine.

The results showed that using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in greater induction of apoptosis – the death of cancer cells. The opposite was the case when the order of administration was reversed and the pairs of cannabinoids were given before chemotherapy.  

How to maximize cannabis’ therapeutic effect

Speaking about cannabinoids’ potential in cancer treatment, Dr Wai Liu said: “Studies such as ours serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximise a therapeutic effect.”

This study highlights the importance of future research into cannabis in order to discover the most effective ways of utilizing cannabis and its derivates such as cannabinoids – whether it be the most effective combinations or level of dosage. We know that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC display great potential in the realm of medicine. Now science needs to concentrate on learning the nuances of cannabinoids and how they can best be applied to human health.

[Featured image credit: Pixabay.com]

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