A new study has discovered that cannabinoids can help achieve better results when treating cancer, combined with a chemotherapy treatment.

There have been some studies conducted on cannabis’ ability to treat cancer, and cannabis is often used to alleviate the symptoms of cancer treatment therapies. But this study suggests that adding a cannabinoid treatment may allow doctors to use less chemotherapy drugs during treatment, minimizing the harmful side effects.

The study conducted at St. George’s University in London focused on leukemia, a type of cancer that destroys red blood cells. Dr. Wai Lu, the lead author of the study, said,

“We have shown for the first time that the order in which cannabinoids and chemotherapy are used is crucial in determining the overall effectiveness of this treatment.”

cannabinoid-cancer-chemotherapy

The report, which was published in the International Journal of Oncology, described the “anticancer activity” when cannabinoids are the sole treatment being administered. Researchers were curious about how cannabinoids interact with chemotherapy when administered before and after treatment, as well as different combinations of cannabinoids.

It revealed that taking cannabis before chemotherapy had a completely different effect than when taken afterwards. When paired with cytarabine and vincristine, two widely-used chemotherapy drugs that treat leukemia, cannabinoids helped kill more cancerous red blood cells after chemotherapy was administered. But it had an adverse effect when taken before chemotherapy.

“Studies such as ours serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximize a therapeutic effect,” explained Liu.

Although this was not a clinical trial involving leukemia patients, research on the cellular level is critical before studies can be carried out with human subjects. The authors of the study admit more research is needed to definitively support their results.

The cannabinoids were not administered through smoking whole-plant cannabis, and researchers warn that unregulated cannabis could have an adverse effect on a patient’s health. “These extracts are highly concentrated and purified, so smoking marijuana will not have a similar effect,” said Liu.

This study’s results are in line with previous research that supports a multi-cannabinoid approach to treating cancer. In 1974, researchers began looking into cannabis to treat cancer, and found that it did in fact shrink tumors in the majority of patients. But further research was restricted by the DEA. Liu himself conducted a similar study in 2013 that examined several cannabinoids, aside from THC, and it propelled his work towards the more recent study, “There’s quite a lot of cancers that should respond quite nicely to these cannabis agents,” he said in 2013.

Statistically, about 38.5% of Americans will develop some sort of cancer within their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Health. Newer treatment therapies focus on maximizing the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation to target cancer rather than harm the immune system, but these therapies can still be destructive. While cancer organizations still caution patients on using cannabis without strong clinical research, Liu is encouraged by the results of this study. “…cannabinoids are a very exciting prospect in oncology, and studies such as ours serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximise a therapeutic effect,” he said.

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