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Cannabinoids and Chemotherapy Combine for Superior Anti-Leukemia Effects, Study Finds

A new study from investigators at St. George’s University of London have found cannabinoids increased the death of leukemia cancer cells.

Cannabinoids found in cannabis are effective for escalating the death of leukemia cancer cells, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Oncology. The investigators, led by Dr. Wai Liu, found that while cannabinoids alone were effective for destroying cancerous tumors, they were even more beneficial when administered in combination with chemotherapy.

Liu and his team of researchers investigated the effects of different combinations of cannabinoids – including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — on leukemia cancer cells in the laboratory. Both CBD and THC, found in cannabis plants, have demonstrated anti-cancer properties in case and preclinical studies. In this study, researchers found that CBD and THC had superior effects when administered in pairs, compared to when each individual cannabinoid was administered alone.

“These extracts are highly concentrated and purified, so smoking marijuana will not have a similar effect,” Liu said. “But cannabinoids are a very exciting prospect in oncology, and studies such as our serve to establish the best ways that they should be used to maximize a therapeutic effect.”

Leukemia is a group of different cancers of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including bone marrow. Affecting an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States, the disease most commonly involves the white blood cells, which play an instrumental role in the body’s immune system. Treatment for leukemia commonly includes chemotherapy, which are drugs that are used to kill leukemia cells.

Medical Marijuana Research

Liu’s study found that combining cannabinoids with chemotherapy treatments had better results than chemotherapy alone. Even when combined with lower doses of chemotherapy, the cannabinoids were found to offer a similar level of effect. This suggests that cannabinoids may allow cancer patients to reduce their dosage of chemotherapy and therefore minimize the treatment’s often debilitating side effects.

The study discovered that the sequence of cannabinoid administration and chemotherapy were instrumental in the effectiveness of the combined treatments to elicit anti-cancer effects. Using cannabinoids before chemotherapy reduced the death of cancer cells, while using them after chemotherapy resulted in greater induction of apoptosis.

“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,” said Dr. Liu.

Of the 29 U.S. states with comprehensive medical marijuana programs, nearly all have approved cannabis for the treatment of cancers like leukemia. While the federal government continues to categorize cannabis as a Schedule I substance, a designation reserved for substances that have “no currently accepted medical use,” the National Cancer Institute currently recognizes cannabis as an effective treatment for managing symptoms associated with cancer.

You can access the entire study, “Anticancer effects of phytocannabinoids used with chemotherapy in leukaemia cells can be improved by altering the sequence of their administration,” via the International Journal of Oncology.

Learn more about what research has previously found about cannabinoids and their efficacy for leukemia and other types of cancer by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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