Although it has yet to be common knowledge, the compound in cannabis most famously known for causing a “high,” tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has long been considered the powerhouse of cannabis therapeutics.
Foremost among its many healing properties is its ability to kill cancer cells, confirmed by decades of research.
More recently, however, scientists have discovered that THC does not act alone. In fact, it is far more effective when assisted by other cannabis compounds or cannabinoids, particularly cannabidiol (CBD).
Unlike THC, CBD is considered non-psychoactive. Many now know about CBD as it has garnered national attention over the past few years for its remarkable ability to stop seizures in intractable cases of epilepsy in children. As it happens, CBD is also a formidable cancer fighter, both alongside THC and in its own right.
CBD Turns Off Gene Known to Spread Cancer
In 2007, a time when the medical potential of CBD was still largely unknown, Dr. Sean McAllister, a cannabis and cancer researcher at California Pacific Medical Center, published pioneering research on “Cannabidiol as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in aggressive breast cancer cells” in the journal, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
The Id-1 gene is believed to be responsible for proliferating and spreading cancer cells throughout the body. As reported by abcNews, the study’s co-author, Pierre-Yves Desprez, describes the importance of the Id-1 gene as analogous to that of an orchestra conductor. “In this case, you shoot the conductor, and the whole orchestra is going to stop. If you shoot the violinist, the orchestra just continues to play.”
Normally silent except during human embryonic development, the Id-1 gene is found active only in metastatic cancer cells and therefore needs a way to be “turned off.” No other known agent is able to do that except CBD.
Although the study looked at breast cancer cells, the Id-1 gene provides the metastatic mechanism for many other types of cancer cells and CBD could potentially target other types of cancers via the Id-1 gene, according to Dr. McAllister.
He is optimistic that CBD could be a breakthrough medication in the fight against cancer.
Current Directions on CBD and Cancer Research
Since then, Dr. McAllister has published numerous other studies examining the effects of CBD on cancer.
Four years after his landmark study, Dr. McAllister and his team was able to determine the exact pathways through which CBD could affect the Id-1 gene to slow down tumor growth in mice.
In 2013, researchers confirmed that the Id-1 gene also plays a critical role in controlling the proliferation and invasion of glioblastoma (brain tumor) cells and CBD is shown to inhibit this process.
Findings published in 2014 in the British Journal of Pharmacology demonstrate that in addition to inhibiting breast cancer growth, CBD may prevent nerve damage and ease chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain (CIPN). This is significant as chemotherapy-induced pain can be overwhelming, especially for late-stage cancer patients, and can cause them to stop treatment.
Although CBD excites researchers and patients alike for its low side effects compared to THC, Dr. McAllister stresses that CBD, while effective on its own, has a far greater effect when combined with THC. Likewise, CBD enhances THC in killing and stopping cancer cells as shown by a 2010 study on glioblastoma.
Moreover, in line with the latest research findings from the UK, Dr. McAllister believes that the maximum cancer-killing effect is achieved in combining cannabinoids with conventional cancer treatments.