Medicinal Marijuana as a Possible Treatment for Gliomas

“Glioma” is the name given to a type of tumor that starts in the glial cells of the nervous system. Gliomas are responsible for about a third of all central nervous system tumors, and also for the majority of malignant brain tumors. Gliomas are a very aggressive form of cancer with a poor prognosis.

The need for promising research in this area is very pressing, and the chemical compounds found in marijuana are looking like one of the most compelling avenues of research. Let’s take a look at some of these findings.

THC Found to Cause Glioma Cell Death

A pilot study conducted in 1998 was among the first to bring attention to the amazing effects that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) had on glioma cells. THC is one of the main constituents of the marijuana plant, and its main psychoactive component as well.

Researchers in the study found that THC caused the glioma cells to fragment and lose their plasma membranes. The glioma cells were effectively killed by THC. A couple of years later, another study reported similar findings. Researchers observed that THC caused a regression in the gliomas of mice and rats.

Both studies suggested that these findings provided the basis for a new therapeutic approach, particularly because the THC had no toxic effect.

THC Compared to a Synthetic Cannabinoid

Researchers in an interesting 2005 study further confirmed the above findings, but did so while comparing THC to a chemical known as WIN 55,212-2. WIN 55,212-2 is a synthetic cannabinoid that acts like THC, but that is very different in its molecular structure.

The study found that while both of these chemicals could stop the proliferation of glioma cells, THC proved to be the more effective of the two. WIN 55,212-2 was only “selectively” effective. 

CBD Found to Inhibit Tumor Growth

THC isn’t the only chemical that marijuana has to offer when it comes to cancer treatment. Cannabidiol (CBD), another abundant chemical in the marijuana plant, seems to have its own unique and intriguing effects. 

Researchers in a 2003 study found that CBD caused “significant antitumor activity” and suggested that it could have possible treatment applications. Another study, which came out in the same year, helped to further solidify these findings. It appeared that CBD prevented glioma tumors from forming new blood vessels, and thereby prevented them from growing.

A Pilot Study in Humans

These findings may seem promising when carried out in the lab on isolated glioma cells, but how effective is cannabis on gliomas in human beings? A 2006 study, the very first of its kind, set out to answer just this question.

Working off the findings of the studies which came before it, researchers observed that THC did indeed inhibit the proliferation of glioma cells in 2 patients. It needs to be kept in mind that these findings were very preliminary and that the sample size was very small. However, based on the results and on the fantastic safety profile of THC, researchers called for more such studies to be done.