Research has shown that cannabinoids have several beneficial effects associated with reducing tumors. They have been shown to stimulate cell death, block cell growth, and inhibit the growth of new blood vessels—a process required for tumors to thrive and grow. Cannabinoids may also directly affect cancer by killing cancerous cells while protecting normal cells. In the laboratory, delta-9-THC was shown to effectively destroy or damage cancer cells in the liver, and the same effects were shown on non-small cell lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells.
Estrogen receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells were killed, whereas healthy breast cells remained unharmed. Additional metastatic breast cancer models in mice showed CBD can reduce the spread, growth, and number of tumor cells.
Combined chemotherapy and CBD treatment was shown to kill human glioma cells and increase cancer cell death without causing harm to healthy cells. Mouse models have shown that adding CBD and delta-9-THC to chemotherapy treatments may enhance their effectiveness.
Despite promising results, the US government has not funded any additional research on the effectiveness of cannabinoids in cancer treatment. However, researchers in other countries continue to make progress.
A study performed at Madrid’s Complutense University found THC stimulates apoptosis in brain cancer cells with no negative effect on healthy cells. In 2000, the same research group reported complete destruction of malignant gliomas in one third of rats injected with synthetic THC, moreover, the lifespan of another one third of the animals was increased by six weeks.
In 2003, investigators at the University of Milan in Italy reported that certain non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana may be able to target and kill malignant cancer cells and limit growth of cancerous glioma cells. In 2004, the American Association for Cancer Research reported the spread of brain cancer cells in human tumor biopsies can be inhibited by substances found in marijuana. Furthermore, researchers at the University of South Florida found THC to target and inhibit the activation and growth of the gammaherpesvirus, which is known to cause the development of certain cancers, such as Kaposi Sarcoma, Burkitt’s lymphoma, and Hodgkin’s disease. The gammaherpesvirus can remain dormant in white blood cells for years until stimulated.
Recent research has also shown cannabinoids may play a major role in slowing or preventing cell growth in colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and skin carcinomas, as well as other conditions. Natural cannabinoids were shown to be much more effective than their synthetic counterparts. Natural cannabinoids inhibit cancer growth and stimulate apoptosis of cancer cells more quickly than synthetic versions, leaving healthy cells unaffected.
Unfortunately, continued research is not being funded in the US due to the current political climate, which tends to advocate the notion that cannabis causes cancer. Therefore, for the most part, research in this area is only being conducted overseas and not in the US.
Since the discovery of the antioxidant properties of cannabinoids, they have become useful in treating illnesses associated with oxidation, including age-related, inflammatory, ischemic, and autoimmune conditions. As an antioxidant, CBD was shown to be more effective than vitamin C and E. Another specific application of cannabinoids is as a neuroprotectant for ischemic conditions such as stroke or trauma, and in treating neurodegenerative diseases like HIV-associated dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Relatively high doses are required to treat such conditions, however, CBD is considered safe due to a lack of toxicity even at high doses.
A large amount of energy is used by brain cells to transmit information throughout the body. This increases oxidative damage, which can lead to decreased brain function and age-related cognitive decline. An aging brain also builds up a significant amount of glutamate—a neurotransmitter involved in nerve cell signaling. Glutamate can cause cell damage and become an excitotoxin with the potential to bring on many of the neurodegenerative conditions that are so prevalent today.
Research has shown CBD to decrease hydroperoxide toxicity in neurons. It was also shown to be more effective in stopping glutamate toxicity than alpha-tocopherol and ascorbate.
Chronic oxidative stress can bring on or be brought on by neuroinflammation. This is frequently seen in neurodegenerative illnesses. The British Journal of Pharmacology reported that CBD decreases neural inflammation in mice injected with amyloid-beta, a protein believed to cause the death of neurons linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2014, a study conducted at the University of South Florida revealed that very low doses of THC actually decrease the production of amyloid beta. This study was the first to report the direct effect of THC on Alzheimer’s via this mechanism. Mitochondrial function was also increased, thereby increasing energy supplied to the brain and improving signaling—both essential functions for a healthy brain.
Additional studies performed on rats have demonstrated the neuroprotective function of CBD and other cannabinoids. Rat cortical neuron cultures were exposed to toxic levels of glutamate and both THC and CBD were shown to decrease NMDA, AMPA, and kainate receptor-mediated neurotoxicities.
The majority of laboratory-based research efforts have involved isolated compounds of various cannabinoids, however, in reality, many cannabinoids plus around 400 trace compounds are found in the hemp plant. One of the magnificent aspects of using these substances medicinally is that many of the compounds found in the whole plant work synergistically to dramatically increase the health benefits. Scientists have termed this the ‘entourage effect.’
This phenomenon allows multiple cannabinoids to work in your body in much the same way as your own endocannabinoids do. In many cases, extracts from the whole plant work better than individual extracts of cannabinoids. Although some controversy exists in the pharmaceutical arena concerning this theory.
According to the entourage effect, four mechanisms through which whole plant extracts work can be defined:
The CBD in whole plant extracts was found to stimulate the body’s endocannabinoid system. Comparing THC with CBD extract and THC, the combination was found to work much more effectively on managing muscle spasms associated with MS.
Cannabinoids can be difficult for your body to absorb at times because they are chemically polar compounds. For example, the two-layer construction of the skin makes it difficult to absorb topical compounds—polar molecules, like water and cannabinoids, have a hard time getting through your skin. The addition of terpenes, like caryophyllene, increases the absorption of the cannabinoids, increasing their beneficial health effects.
One of the frustrating qualities of bacteria is their ability to develop defenses against common antibacterial medications. The entourage effect allows extracts of cannabis plants to overcome these defenses. Cannabinoids themselves have been shown to contain antibacterial properties and extracts from the whole cannabis plant contain additional non-cannabinoid substances with antibacterial properties. This gives the whole plant extract the ability to attack bacteria on multiple fronts, thus, rendering them defenseless.
One of the most frequent drawbacks of using cannabis for remediating illnesses is the anxiety and paranoia experienced by many THC users. A significant aspect of the entourage effect is that CBD minimizes the side effects of THC. The mechanism for this appears to be via CBD preventing THC from binding to CB1 receptor sites—in fact, CBD can actually kick THC out of a receptor site—thereby alleviating or completely preventing the side effects associated with THC.
The entourage effect suggests that various compounds of the cannabis plant do not compete with each other when they are taken together. Rather, the healing properties of each is enhanced, making the combination much stronger than any of the individual compounds alone.
Recently, research has shown the gut and the brain communicate via the vagus nerve. Much of what happens in the gut affects the brain through this pathway. If there is gut dysbiosis, one result is dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system of your body.
This can result in significant issues due to the relationships between the different systems of your body, including increased inflammation. Studies have shown inflammation of the brain can lead to many problems including mental health issues.
Cannabinoids have already been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may alleviate inflammation in multiple areas of your body. Your brain is one of those areas. Research has shown that early activation of CB1 receptors may be a significant first step in protecting your colon against inflammation.
The majority of serotonin is produced in your gut, therefore, disruptions of the gut due to inflammation can trigger the development of depression. Thus, dealing with this type of inflammation early may prevent depression.
The endocannabinoid system is widely dispersed throughout your body and controls gut function from both within the gut itself and outside the gut. Inflammation in your gut is strongly influenced by this system via its homeostatic role. Another role of the endocannabinoid system is to provide a link between stress and gut pain.
The sensory ganglia in your gut contain CB1 receptors that control how your gut feels, which can be modified by chronic stress. In this way, stress and stomach pain are linked. The endocannabinoid system is also involved in how stress manifests directly in your gut and its effects on certain locations in the brain locations can signal a reduction in the activities of the HPA axis.
Research is ongoing into ways of modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system as a means of dealing with gastrointestinal disorders.
Theoretically, the use of cannabinoids in Adrenal Fatigue syndrome may be beneficial, given the many symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, and sympathetic overtones, that commonly plague sufferers in the advanced stage. The calming effect of cannabinoids may be beneficial in certain cases. Although, more often than not, clinical outcomes remain uncertain and those who are already experiencing frequent paradoxical reactions appear to be most at risk. The outcomes of cannabinoid use in advanced AFS sufferers tend to be quite unpredictable. The dosage, frequency, duration, and delivery system may also affect the biological delivery of cannabinoids on the cellular level. Those whose bodies are sensitive tend to have either an exaggerated response requiring only a small dose to see clinical effects or larger dosages compared to the normal population.
Those who suffer from liver or extracellular matrix congestion tend to be least responsive to cannabinoid use and negative effects are often reported. Long-term use may increases metabolite load, leading to a negative reactive metabolite response and overload. The use of cannabinoids in an AFS setting must therefore be closely supervised by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
With an increasing body of literature regarding the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids on your health, it has become more evident that further research is required. Hopefully, politicians in the US will become aware of the promising results being reported outside the US and direct more funding towards this type of research. The many uses of cannabis plant extracts and their numerous health benefits require further research in order to fully utilize them.