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Modified medicinal cannabis can kill or inhibit cancer cells


 Laboratory tests conducted at the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute have shown that modified medicinal cannabis can kill or inhibit cancer cells without impacting normal cells, revealing its potential as a treatment instead of simply a relief medication.

The significant outcome follows three years of investigations by cancer researcher Dr. Matt Dun with biotech company Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG), which produces a cannabis variety containing but 1 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive component commonly related to marijuana. The plant referred to as ‘Eve’, has high levels of the compound cannabidiol (CBD).

“ANTG wanted me to check it against cancer, so we initially used leukemia cells and were really surprised by how sensitive they were,” Dr. Dun says. “At an equivalent time, the cannabis didn’t kill normal bone marrow cells, nor normal healthy neutrophils [white blood cells].

“We then realized there was a cancer-selective mechanism involved, and we’ve spent the past few years trying to seek out the solution .”

The Dun team has run comparisons between THC-containing cannabis, and cannabis lacking THC but with elevated levels of CBD. They found that, for both leukemia and pediatric brainstem glioma, the CBD-enriched variety was simpler at killing cancer cells than THC varieties.

In a recent paper entitled “Can Hemp Help?”, released by the international journal Cancers, Dr. Dun and his team also undertook a literature review of over 150 academic papers that investigated the health benefits, side-effects, and possible anti-cancer benefits of both CBD and THC.

“There are trials round the world testing cannabis formulations containing THC as a cancer treatment, but if you thereon therapy your quality of life is impacted,” Dr. Dun says. “You can’t drive, for instance, and clinicians are justifiably reluctant to prescribe a toddler something that would cause hallucinations or other side-effects.

“The CBD variety looks to possess greater efficacy, low toxicity, and fewer side-effects, which potentially makes it a perfect complementary therapy to mix with other anti-cancer compounds.”

The next phase of the study includes investigating what makes cancer cells sensitive and normal cells not, whether it's clinically relevant, and whether a spread of cancers responds.

“We got to understand the mechanism so we will find ways to feature other drugs that amplify the effect, and week by week are getting more clues. It’s exciting and important if we would like to maneuver this into a therapy”  Dr. Dun adds, stressing that cannabis is not yet ready for clinical use as an anti-cancer agent.

“Hopefully our work will help to reduce the stigma behind prescribing cannabis, particularly varieties that have minimal side-effects, especially if utilized in combination with current standard-of-care therapies and radiotherapy. Until then, though, people should still seek advice from their usual medical man .”

The study was funded by ANTG and HMRI through the Sandi Rose Foundation.

“We are happy to ascertain three years of collaboration with UON and HMRI deliver such exciting findings within the fight against cancer. ANTG remains committed to its patient-centric mission of understanding the huge therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis." - Matthew Cantelo, CEO, Australian Natural Therapeutics Group, said.

We thank Matt Dun and the team for such encouraging insights into the anti-cancer properties of cannabis. We are looking forward to moving forward to a subsequent stage of the study and continue to develop effective, safe, and consistent cannabis medicines for Australian patients.

* Dr. Matt Dun is from the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with Orion Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Cancer Program. HMRI may be a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health, and the community.

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