Is cannabis a treatment for brain tumours?
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You may also know cannabis as marijuana, pot, grass, weed, hemp, hashish or dope. Scientific names include Cannabis sativa and delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis is a plant that grows wild in many hotter regions of the world. People have used parts of the plant in herbal remedies for centuries.
In the past few years cannabis has been the subject of a lot of medical research. There were many media reports in August 2004 about very early stage research into the use of chemical cannabinoids to help treat a type of brain tumour called glioblastoma multiforme. Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in marijuana. Complutense University in Madrid and the University hospital of Tenerife jointly carried out the research. Their results were published in the medical journal Cancer Research in August 2004.
The research found that cannabinoids interfere with the activity of genes needed to produce a chemical called VEGF. VEGF stands for Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor. It helps to make new cells grow.
VEGF is one of the most important chemicals controlling blood vessel growth. Doctors call the growth of new blood vessels angiogenesis. As they get bigger, cancers need to grow their own blood vessels. Without its own blood supply to bring food and take away waste from cells, a cancer can’t grow bigger than a pea. If doctors could block VEGF, this could limit the growth of blood vessels supplying tumours and so they won’t be able to grow. This is called anti VEGF treatment.
The researchers first tested cannabinoids in the laboratory, with some promising results. They then looked at the effects of injecting cannabinoids into brain tumours of 2 people with advanced glioblastoma multiforme. The researchers at the University Hospital of Tenerife then injected cannabinoids into brain tumours in 9 patients. The substance seemed to slow the growth of the tumours. But we need more research before we can tell whether cannabinoids may really help to treat brain tumours.
As far as we know, there are no trials investigating cannabis for brain tumours at the moment. Further trials may take place. There are a few trials looking at cannabis for controlling symptoms and side effects, mostly for pain control. There are already several other anti VEGF inhibitors in clinical development for several types of cancers.
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