Dr Stephen Barnhill MD, CEO of Apollon Formularies Plc, examines medical cannabis and the future of cancer treatments across the UK and the European healthcare sectors
Early-stage research suggests that cannabis-derived medicines could be effective in treating various cancers. Recent experimental treatments and small-scale clinical trials have shown the importance of showing the efficacy of these medicinal cannabis formulations and will be a crucial and necessary path leading the way for medical cannabis to enter mainstream treatment for cancer patients.
For centuries, the plant Cannabis sativa L., has been used across the world as a herbal remedy. After ending its 50-year prohibition, medical cannabis was legalised in 2018 in the UK sparking renewed interest and research into the plant’s properties.
In cancer treatment, cannabinoids, the group of molecules, including CBD and THC, which constitute the active compounds in cannabis, have been primarily used as a part of palliative care to alleviate pain, relieve nausea and stimulate appetite. However, early-stage research and testing have suggested that medical cannabis may also be a highly effective treatment for killing cancer cells itself.
Several pre-clinical laboratory studies have shown that cannabinoids may reduce cancer cell growth and could disrupt the blood supply to cancerous cells, including brain tumours , breast cancers [2,3] and prostate cancer , among others.
As medicinal cannabis moves away from the ‘novel’ and into the mainstream, pharmaceutical companies will need to ensure that these medical formulations comply with current pharmaceutical gold standards with respect to consistent dosing, routes of administration, stability, clinical efficacy and safety. The new medicines will need rigorous protected intellectual property via defendable international patents, with actual clinical efficacy in patient data.
So how does it work?
Understanding how cannabis can treat cancer depends on the cannabinoids and the type of cancer in question, thus complicating the matter.
Results have shown that different cannabinoids can cause cell death (apoptosis), block cell growth through various inhibitors, stop the development of blood vessels (mTOR inhibitors) which are needed for tumours to grow, reduce inflammation through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells , and reduce the ability of cancers to spread (cell migration and metastasis).
With over 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for medical cannabis in cancer treatment. Cutting edge work using artificial intelligence (AI) is being carried out to analyse cannabis plant genetics and phenotypes, to determine the best combination of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids to target and optimise the treatment of various cancers.
Image: Unsplashed, Jose Luis Sanchez Pereyra