Cannabinoids is a name given collectively to a group of complex chemicals which latch onto protein molecules found on the surface of cells. These chemicals are natural as well as man-made and the protein molecules are called cannabinoid receptors. The natural cannabinoids are derived from the cannabis plant, which have been in use for many centuries for medicinal as well as recreational purposes.
It was in 1940s that cannabinoids were extracted from cannabis plant. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient found in cannabis plant, the structure of this compound was discovered about twenty years later. In the late 1980s researchers were able to find cannabinoid receptor. It was also discovered that human bodies also produce endocannabinoids, which are chemicals similar to cannabinoids.
How Cannabinoids Work
Cannabinoids receptors found in humans are located in different parts of the body and perform different functions. CB1 receptors found on the cells belonging to the nervous system are the ones that cause the feeling of ‘high’ when someone uses cannabis. CB2 receptors are found on the immune system cells.
In recent decades scientists have identified that endocannabinoids found in humans and cannabinoids control numerous functions in the human body like assisting in controlling the brain and nerve activity, heart functions, immune system, reproduction system and energy metabolism.
Cannabinoids and Cancer
Both natural as well as synthetic cannabinoids have unique properties and are the subject of research for their potential in many diseases. Since the 1970s researchers have studied the anticancer properties possessed by cannabinoids and many studies related to this subject have been conducted and published to date.
An article in the journal called Nature Reviews Cancer carried a summary of experiments carried out with cannabinoids, which latch onto CB1 and CB2 receptors. Scientists have been able to determine that natural and synthetic cannabinoids could trigger apoptosis, which is the process of cell death. They also check cell division and ward of new blood vessels trying to grow into infectious tumors.
Cannabinoids also stop cancerous cells from traveling to the neighboring tissue and thus cut down the chances of the cancer spreading. Cannabinoids also speed up autophagy, the process of internal waste disposal in cells, which causes cell death. It has also been found out that cannabinoids can affect even cancer cells without cannabinoid receptors, but the exact process has not yet been identified.
The best results that have been obtained have come from using THC in a much purified form and cannabidiol (CBD) which is a natural cannabinoid that can neutralize the effects of THC. Synthetic cannabinoid molecules like JWH-133 have also produced positive results.
The most important thing to consider when determining the efficacy of cannabinoids is that all studies are conducted on cancer cells cultivated in labs or on lab animals. The results obtained cannot be related to humans. In fact, some studies have established that cannabinoids can have negative effects on cancer.
For instance, some studies indicated that THC in high doses can damage vital blood vessel cells. Some studies have also found that different level of cannabinoids receptors found on the cancer cells can be affected by the cannabinoids in different ways, and all of them are not beneficial. In some cases, cannabinoids have actually been found to stimulate growth of cancer cells.
Some studies have established that activated CB2 receptors can interfere with the property of the immune system to identify and attack tumor cells. Some researchers are of the opinion that cannabinoids should be combined with chemotherapy drugs for better results.
Results of only one clinical trial with cannabinoids have been published till date and the trial was conducted in Spain, on nine brain tumor patients whose tumor was in the advanced stage. Although eight of the patients showed some response, all of them died within a year as their disease was in an advanced stage.
Despite the studies and claims, it is yet to be conclusively established that cannabinoids can actually cure cancer.
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