Cannabis v Cancer: An Accidental Discovery


In the lab: Dr Guillermo Velasco and Dr Juan Sepúlveda who will be conducting the MCBT funded clinical trial.

Over the past five years the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour has been raising funds for medical research and final preparations are being made for an ambitious clinical trial into the effects of the cannabinoids THC and CBD on cancer cells.

In the world of science knowledge is increased by the use of clinical trials that test out research that has been carried out in the laboratory. Most of these trials are sponsored by governments or corporate interests – for example pharmaceutical companies developing a new drug for sale.

The MCBT is funding independent trials that will test the research of scientists from Madrid’s Complutense University, specifically the work of Dr Guillermo Velasco and Dr Manuel Guzman focusing on gliomas (brain tumours). Their ground breaking research, first published in  the Nature Medicine scientific journal in 2000.

Their research suggests that cannabinoids have the potential to cause apoptosis in cancer cells (causing them to commit suicide) and stop cancerous cells from migrating. This second aspect is especially significant for brain cancer patients as removing the main tumor can leave cancerous fragments which then travel to other parts of the body.


Accidental Discovery

The research of the Madrid scientists may p[rove to have fundamental implications for the way we treat cancer. However, like many ground breaking discoveries, chance played an influential role.   

As Dr Velasco revealed, in an interview with Weed World magazine, the Madrid scientists research was developed from another university study of endocannabinoids (the chemical compounds naturally produced by the human body to maintain health and balance), observing the effect of cannabinoids on metabolism.

As part of that project they wanted to try out these compounds on cells from the nervous system, specifically the brain. By chance, they experimented on brain cells affected with Glioma (brain cancer) and made the startling discovery that  tumour cells treated with cannabinoids began to die. This prompted the Madrid scientists to extend their research to the laboratory, with impressive results that saw tumours reduced in mice.  

In the years since this amazing discovery, the scientists have continued to research the potential of cannabinoids as an anti-cancer agent. As with all scientific research however, there is a significant jump from getting favourable results in the controlled conditions of the laboratory and testing the research on humans.

However, the scientists’ research has excited many in the scientific community and provided the fuel for scientific research around the world into the potential benefits of cannabinoids. A sign of how seriously the research is considered is the fact that the MCBT funded clinical trials will be administered by the well respected GEINO (The Spanish Group of Neuro-oncologiscal Investigation). The organisation’s chief investigator, Dr Juan Sepúlveda has said he is confident that these trials will provide evidence of cannabinoids reducing tumours (in combination with other anti-cancer agents).

Following the trial, it will take some time before the results are published, but the ramifications for cancer treatment could be very significant indeed.