Strong reasons make strong actions: medical cannabis and cancer—a call for collective action

Logo of curroncol“Call it cannabis, not marijuana or weed.

It has been more than 17 years since the Canadian prohibitory regulations on the use of medical cannabis began to ease and more than 17 weeks (more than 6 months by the time of publication) since the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) became law. Cannabis use for medical purposes has been part of the historical record and medical writings for millennia. However, it is only in the last 30 years that the workings of the human endocannabinoid system have been described and its receptors discovered. Amazing as all of those developments have been, the challenge of reintegrating cannabis into the science of modern medicine—and particularly care for patients with cancer—is a need whose time has come.

Surveys inform us that patients with cancer are using cannabis to manage symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatment. More concerning is that their use is for a medical need occurring outside the confines of modern cancer care, with patients accessing their cannabis from friends and family, and often from casual or unlicensed suppliers. Beliefs in the benefits of cannabis—for its yet unfounded therapeutic potential—are commonly held or supported by poor-quality evidence. Patients and their caregivers are inundated with media stories about a budding industry and its mergers and acquisitions while it grows to meet a need for what is regarded by some as overlooked and undertreated ailments. How should oncologists and the oncology team, trusted as the informed and compassionate advocates for their patients, reconcile the overwhelming public attention being given to this product—growing more, creating new routes of administration, and reaching for new uses—with the work needed to further the science of cannabis as it pertains to cancer care?

The onus is on us, the community of cancer care providers, to act.

Therapeutic and clinical developments in oncology are resulting in improvements in the survival of many patients. Costly immunologic therapies are promising and are being implemented for a variety of cancers. New science about the microbiome, about cancer detection, and about targeted therapies are being researched. And yet, contrasted against those celebrations of scientific ingenuity are the glaring gaps in the work pertaining to cannabis to settle unsubstantiated claims and anecdotal observations of this elixir for the ages. As clinicians and scientists, we must work to generate the needed evidence-based outcomes and to document or dispel the potential interactions and sequelae between cannabis and prescribed cancer treatments. “There are in fact two things, science and opinion, the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance”.

The frameworks to lead this charge are ours to create. The current legal framework is focused on issues of access and control to regulate production, distribution, and sale. The medical framework for cannabis research is more tenuous, concentrated in silos of expertise as a result of the previous prohibitory environment. The study of cannabis is ripe for development, but even intra-institutional endeavors require help. The machinery of science requires some assembly and repurposing to address the new challenges.

If the current and future oncology landscape is a challenge for those working in cancer care, we must remember that patients deserve our compassion as they attempt to navigate this emotional journey with or without cannabis. More importantly, they need our support and deserve to see us take leadership in cannabis research. Oncologists who have expertise in both the clinical and scientific worlds must inform the necessary work. We must be the architects of its design, building bridges to industry and patients, while engaging our academic institutions.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6588059/

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Isolation, Synthesis And Structure Determination Of Cannabidiol Derivatives And Their Cytotoxic Activities.

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“In a continuing effort to explore the structural diversity and pharmacological activities of natural products based scaffolds, herein, we report the isolation, synthesis, and structure determination of cannabidiol and its derivatives along with their cytotoxic activities. Treatment of cannabidiol (1) with acid catalyst POCl3 afforded a new derivative 6 along with six known molecules 2  57 and, 8. The structure of 6 was elucidated by extensive spectroscopic analyses and DFT calculations of the NMR and ECD data. All the compounds (2  8) were evaluated for their cytotoxic potential against a panel of eight cancer cell lines. Compounds 457, and 8showed pronounced in vitro cytotoxic activity with IC50 values ranging from 5.6 to 60 μM. Out of the active molecules, compounds 4, and 7 were found to be comparable to that of the parent molecule 1 on the inhibition of almost all the tested cancer cell lines.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31282748

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14786419.2019.1638381?journalCode=gnpl20

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The heterogeneity and complexity of Cannabis extracts as antitumor agents

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“The Cannabis plant contains over 100 phytocannabinoids and hundreds of other components. The biological effects and interplay of these Cannabis compounds are not fully understood and yet influence the plant’s therapeutic effects.

Here we assessed the antitumor effects of whole Cannabis extracts, which contained significant amounts of differing phytocannabinoids, on different cancer lines from various tumor origins.

Our results show that specific Cannabis extracts impaired the survival and proliferation of cancer cell lines as well as induced apoptosis.

Our findings showed that pure (-)-Δ9trans-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) did not produce the same effects on these cell lines as the whole Cannabis extracts. Furthermore, Cannabis extracts with similar amounts of Δ9-THC produced significantly different effects on the survival of specific cancer cells.

In addition, we demonstrated that specific Cannabis extracts may selectively and differentially affect cancer cells and differing cancer cell lines from the same organ origin. We also found that cannabimimetic receptors were differentially expressed among various cancer cell lines and suggest that this receptor diversity may contribute to the heterogeneous effects produced by the differing Cannabis extracts on each cell line.

Our overall findings indicate that the effect of a Cannabis extract on a specific cancer cell line relies on the extract’s composition as well as on certain characteristics of the targeted cells.”

http://www.oncotarget.com/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path[]=26983

“Many previous reports highlight and demonstrate the anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids. In the last decade, accumulating evidence has indicated that phytocannabinoids might have antitumor properties. A number of in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated the effects of phytocannabinoids on tumor progression by interrupting several characteristic features of cancer. These studies suggest that specific cannabinoids such as Δ9-THC and CBD induce apoptosis and inhibit proliferation in various cancer cell lines.”

http://www.oncotarget.com/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=26983&path%5B%5D=85698

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Antitumor Cannabinoid Chemotypes: Structural Insights.

Image result for frontiers in pharmacology“Cannabis has long been known to limit or prevent nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, and pain. For this reason, cannabinoids have been successfully used in the treatment of some of the unwanted side effects caused by cancer chemotherapy.

Besides their palliative effects, research from the past two decades has demonstrated their promising potential as antitumor agents in a wide variety of tumors.

Cannabinoids of endogenous, phytogenic, and synthetic nature have been shown to impact the proliferation of cancer through the modulation of different proteins involved in the endocannabinoid system such as the G protein-coupled receptors CB1, CB2, and GRP55, the ionotropic receptor TRPV1, or the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).

In this article, we aim to structurally classify the antitumor cannabinoid chemotypes described so far according to their targets and types of cancer. In a drug discovery approach, their in silico pharmacokinetic profile has been evaluated in order to identify appropriate drug-like profiles, which should be taken into account for further progress toward the clinic.

This analysis may provide structural insights into the selection of specific cannabinoid scaffolds for the development of antitumor drugs for the treatment of particular types of cancer.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31214034

“The first report on the antitumor activity of phytocannabinoids was published over four decades ago. During these last years, significant research has been focused on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids to manage palliative effects in cancer patients. Besides such palliative applications, some cannabinoids have shown anticancer properties. Since inflammation is a common risk factor for cancer, and some cannabinoids have shown anti-inflammatory properties, they could play a role in chemoprevention.” https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.00621/full
“Antitumor effects of THC.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11097557
“Antitumor effects of cannabidiol” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14617682
“Anti-tumour actions of cannabinoids.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30019449
“Extensive preclinical research has demonstrated that cannabinoids, the active ingredients of Cannabis sativa, trigger antitumor responses in different models of cancer.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29940172
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The Endocannabinoid System and its Modulation by Cannabidiol (CBD).

Image result for Altern Ther Health Med. “The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an extensive endogenous signaling system with multiple elements, the number of which may be increasing as scientists continue to elucidate its role in human health and disease. The ECS is seemingly ubiquitous in animal species and is modulated by diet, sleep, exercise, stress, and a multitude of other factors, including exposure to phytocannabinoids, like Cannabidiol (CBD). Modulating the activity of this system may offer tremendous therapeutic promise for a diverse scope of diseases, ranging from mental health disorders, neurological and movement disorders, pain, autoimmune disease, spinal cord injury, cancer, cardiometabolic disease, stroke, TBI, osteoporosis, and others.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31202198

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Cannabidiol Overcomes Oxaliplatin Resistance by Enhancing NOS3- and SOD2-Induced Autophagy in Human Colorectal Cancer Cells.

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“Although oxaliplatin is an effective chemotherapeutic drug for colorectal cancer (CRC) treatment, patients often develop resistance to it. Therefore, a new strategy for CRC treatment is needed.

The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of cannabidiol(CBD), one of the components of the cannabis plant, in overcoming oxaliplatin resistance in CRC cells.

Taken together, these results suggest that elevated phosphorylation of NOS3 is essential for oxaliplatin resistance. The combination of oxaliplatin and CBD decreased NOS3 phosphorylation, which resulted in autophagy, by inducing the overproduction of ROS through mitochondrial dysfunction, thus overcoming oxaliplatin resistance.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31195721

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6694/11/6/781

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Dramatic response to Laetrile and cannabidiol (CBD) oil in a patient with metastatic low grade serous ovarian carcinoma.

Gynecologic Oncology Reports

“Complimentary alternative medicine use is common in women with gynecologic cancers. Cannabinoid receptors are potential therapeutic targets in ovarian cancer. Communication with patients is critical regarding use of alternative therapies.”  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31193514

In this case report, we present the case of a female patient who demonstrated disease response after declining standard therapy and taking a combination of Laetrile and CBD oil. Previous clinical trials in humans have demonstrated no therapeutic effect in cancer patients taking Laetrile. However, basic science studies have identified cannabinoid receptors in ovarian cancer as potential therapeutic targets for cannabinoid use in treating malignancy.

In this case report, we highlight a dramatic response to combination Laetrile and CBD oil in a patient with widely metastatic Low grade serous ovarian cancer (LGSOC).

Laetrile is a semi-synthetic version of amygdaline, a chemical compound found in plants and fruit seeds. Both Laetrile and amygdaline contain cyanide within a common structural component. Theoretically, Laetrile has anti-cancer effects when cyanide is released via enzymatic degradation. However, a Cochrane review published in 2015 found no randomized or quasi randomized control trials supporting the use of Laetrile in cancer patients. Further, they argued that due to the risk of cyanide poisoning, Laetrile use should be discouraged in patients seeking the compound for alternative cancer therapy. Concerns for toxicity in combination with inability to demonstrate clinical efficacy led to an effective ban on the substance by the FDA in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the substance remains available for purchase in variable formulations commercially.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound naturally derived from the cannabis plant.

The anti-cancer effects of CBD have been evaluated predominantly in the laboratory setting. Interestingly, ovarian cancer cell lines express GPR55, a target that is inhibited indirectly by CBD and that plays a role in prostate and ovarian cancer cell proliferation. Mouse model studies have also demonstrated cannabinoids inhibit tumor cell growth and induce apoptosis in gliomas, lymphomas, prostate, breast, lung, skin, and pancreatic cancer cells.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352578919300517?via%3Dihub

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The oncogenic role of CB2 in the progression of non-small-cell lung cancer.

Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy

“Several studies have verified the important role of cannabinoid and cannabinoid receptor agonists in tumor progression. However, little is known about the precise role of CB2 expression level in the progression of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The expression of CB2 in NSCLC tissues and corresponding paracancerous tissues was examined using immunohistochemical staining assay.

CONCLUSION:

Our data suggested that targeting CB2 may inhibit the growth and survival of NSCLC cells, which the Akt/mTOR/P70S6K pathway may be involved in. These results confer the pro-oncogenic role of CB2 in the progression of NSCLC, thus improving our understanding of CB2 in tumor progression.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31176172

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332219321341?via%3Dihub

“Cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, as novel targets for inhibition of non-small cell lung cancer growth and metastasis. These results suggest that CB1 and CB2 could be used as novel therapeutic targets against NSCLC.”  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21097714

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Should Oncologists Recommend Cannabis?

“Cannabis is a useful botanical with a wide range of therapeutic potential. Global prohibition over the past century has impeded the ability to study the plant as medicine. However, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been developed as a stand-alone pharmaceutical initially approved for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in 1986. The indication was expanded in 1992 to include treatment of anorexia in patients with the AIDS wasting syndrome. Hence, if the dominant cannabinoid is available as a schedule III prescription medication, it would seem logical that the parent botanical would likely have similar therapeutic benefits. The system of cannabinoid receptors and endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) has likely developed to help us modulate our response to noxious stimuli. Phytocannabinoids also complex with these receptors, and the analgesic effects of cannabis are perhaps the best supported by clinical evidence. Cannabis and its constituents have also been reported to be useful in assisting with sleep, mood, and anxiety. Despite significant in vitro and animal model evidence supporting the anti-cancer activity of individual cannabinoids-particularly THC and cannabidiol (CBD)-clinical evidence is absent. A single intervention that can assist with nausea, appetite, pain, mood, and sleep is certainly a valuable addition to the palliative care armamentarium. Although many healthcare providers advise against the inhalation of a botanical as a twenty-first century drug-delivery system, evidence for serious harmful effects of cannabis inhalation is scant and a variety of other methods of ingestion are currently available from dispensaries in locales where patients have access to medicinal cannabis. Oncologists and palliative care providers should recommend this botanical remedy to their patients to gain first-hand evidence of its therapeutic potential despite the paucity of results from randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials to appreciate that it is both safe and effective and really does not require a package insert.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31161270

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11864-019-0659-9

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Modulation of the Endocannabinoid System as a Potential Anticancer Strategy.

 Image result for frontiers in pharmacology“Currently, the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in cancer development and possible options for a cancer-regressive effect of cannabinoids are controversially discussed. In recent decades, a number of preclinical studies have shown that cannabinoids have an anticarcinogenic potential. Therefore, especially against the background of several legal simplifications with regard to the clinical application of cannabinoid-based drugs, an extended basic knowledge about the complex network of the individual components of the endocannabinoid system is required. The canonical endocannabinoid system consists of the endocannabinoids N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol as well as the Gi/o protein-coupled transmembrane cannabinoidreceptors CB1 and CB2. As a result of extensive studies on the broader effect of these factors, other fatty acid derivatives, transmembrane and intracellular receptors, enzymes and lipid transporters have been identified that contribute to the effect of endocannabinoids when defined in the broad sense as “extended endocannabinoid system.” Among these additional components, the endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol lipase, lipid transport proteins of the fatty acid-binding protein family, additional cannabinoid-activated G protein-coupled receptors such as GPR55, members of the transient receptor family, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors were identified as targets for possible strategies to combat cancer progression. Other endocannabinoid-related fatty acids such as 2-arachidonoyl glyceryl ether, O-arachidonoylethanolamine, N-arachidonoyldopamine and oleic acid amide showed an effect via cannabinoid receptors, while other compounds such as endocannabinoid-like substances exert a permissive action on endocannabinoid effects and act via alternative intracellular target structures. This review gives an overview of the modulation of the extended endocannabinoid system using the example of anticancer cannabinoid effects, which have been described in detail in preclinical studies.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31143113

“In addition to the palliative effects of cannabinoid compounds in cancer treatment, the endocannabinoid system provides several targets for systemic anticancer treatment. Accordingly, preclinical studies suggest cannabinoids inhibit cancer progression via inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, neovascularization, invasion and chemoresistance, as well as induction of apoptosis, autophagy and increase of tumor immune surveillance.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.00430/full

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