Pubdate: Thu, 01 Nov 2012
Source: East Carolinian (NC Edu)
Copyright: 2012 The East Carolinian
Author: Amanda Cooper


People have been using marijuana as a natural medicine for years. In 
2010, an ABC News poll showed that 81 percent of Americans believed 
that medical cannabis should be legal in the United States.

Seventeen states have already legalized the use of medicinal 
marijuana and seven more states are now pending legislation.

THC, the principle psychoactive drug found in marijuana, can also be 
found in the form of a prescription drug called Marinol. Oncologists 
recommend it to patients who are going through chemotherapy to help 
combat the painful side effects that accompany it, such as nausea, 
vomiting and loss of appetite.

However, today THC is not only being used as a palliative drug, but 
also as a possible treatment to fight cancer itself.

According to an article found in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer, 
researchers at Harvard University, who tested the compound (THC) in 
both lab and mouse studies, found that it cuts tumor growth in half 
and significantly reduced the ability of the cancer to spread.

Scientists reported that the compound selectively targets and 
destroys tumor cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. By 
contrast, the most popular cancer treatment, chemotherapy, 
indiscriminately kills all growing cells, therefore causing sickly 
side effects.

However, Tim Christensen, ECU biology professor and molecular 
geneticist said this is just the tip of the iceberg. "We are still in 
infancy with respect to understanding the mechanisms of these things 
on cancer," he said.

Christensen said scientists have fairly good evidence that it does 
retard growth of cancer. "Cancer is a slippery bastard," he said. "No 
two cancers are the same." He added that one cancer might respond by 
growing more, while one cancer might respond by growing less.

Christensen does admit the research looks promising.

"They're not just pot heads in California doing the research," he 
said. "These results are coming out of good quality labs."

Local oncologist Dr. Prashanti Atluri agreed with Christensen and 
said the research is indeed promising, but the odds of it being a 
cure-all for cancer are very unrealistic.

"Just because something can kill a cancer cell in a petri dish or in 
a certain specified situation doesn't mean that when they do the 
clinical trials that it's actually going to improve life," said 
Atluri. "Unless you can show that there is an improvement 
statistically in years of life, usually they won't approve the drug."

However, this research is so preliminary that scientists have just 
begun to pack up and move out of the labs to start testing THC on 
human patients.

"This area of research is so shallow compared to other areas, and 
part of it is due to the stigma associated with these compounds," 
said Christensen. "The barriers to do the research are high because 
having the substance is illegal."

According to an article on the Science Daily website, because of the 
stigma, scientists have begun synthesizing THC in labs instead of 
using the actual plant in order to make it more potent and also to 
avoid potential interference from the federal government.

Christensen said we always have reason to worry that some of the 
research is motivated by people who just want to smoke pot. "But 
scientists are a very skeptical bunch. We need evidence, and that's 
what people are doing," he said.

Atluri said right now it's too preliminary to say if it's ever going 
to come to fruition because the research has to go through a lot to 
tell if it's actually going to make a difference in life.

"This is just one compound out of hundreds they have found that kill 
cancer cells," said Atluri. "Sometimes they have drugs that work 
really well and have begun to face several trials, but ended up not 
panning out for whatever reason."

She said usually therapies like this work better alongside 
chemotherapy or other drugs. "Combined therapy is always a better way 
to go so you know that you don't get resistance and things like 
that," said Atluri.

Christensen sided with Atluri on this and added, "It turns out the 
best ways of dealing with cancer is using more than one way."
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