A substance found in cannabis plants might boost treatments for patients with pancreatic cancer, research in mice has suggested.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is not psychoactive, meaning it does not produce feelings of being high in those who take it. It is extracted from hemp plants and is legal in the UK, although a CBD product must be licensed before it can be advertised as having health benefits. At present, there are no licensed CBD-only medicines in the UK, but it is being used in a number of clinical trials, including for treating psychosis.
Now scientists say CBD could boost the effect of drugs used to treat pancreatic cancer – a disease with a bleak prognosis.
“It is very aggressive, so it is very important to find new therapies for this cancer,” said Dr Riccardo Ferro, first author of the research from Queen Mary University of London.
Mice with pancreatic cancer treated with a combination of cannabidiol (CBD) and chemotherapy survived nearly three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone, according to a new study that spotlights the potential for human treatment.
Writing in the journal Oncogene, Ferro and colleagues from the UK, Italy and Australia describe how they carried out experiments both on cells in dishes and on mice that had been genetically modified to develop pancreatic cancer, to show that a gene known as GPR55 is involved in the growth and multiplication of pancreatic cancer cells. This gene gives rise to proteins that sit in cell membranes and detect various substances, including certain cannabis-derived chemicals. The team found about 26% of human pancreatic cancer samples showed raised levels of such receptors, suggesting an accumulation in cancer tissues – at least for some patients.
While human trials involving CBD as a cancer treatment may move faster in the UK, similar efforts could face obstacles in the U.S., where CBD derived from marijuana is still considered an illegal (Schedule 1) substance under federal law. Progress is being made, however, with the US FDA approving the first drug comprised of CBD to treat severe forms of epilepsy in June of this year.
Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest forms of cancer in the world in terms of overall survival rates. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is just under 7%. It’s the 12th most common cancer globally, with the highest incidence occuring in developed countries.
“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available,” Dr. Falasca added in a press statement. “Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is less than seven percent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.”
While this study hasn’t yet been replicated in humans, the results underscore the importance of continued research involving marijuana compounds.
Image – About Manchester