​Harvard Study Rejuvenates Cannabis’s Potential Role in Cancer Treatment

Stephen L Kanaval  |

Photo credit courtesy of iStockphoto.com/user:4X-image

If you have any interest in the cannabis industry, you know that the cannabis plant is more than just THC and CBD. Inside each plant is a symphony of bioactive compounds, and flavonoids are one aspect not much discussed.

Found in most flowers, fruits and vegetables, flavonoids make up about 10% of each cannabis plant, and these specific cannabis flavonoids are called cannaflavins. In nature, most often, flavonoids provide pigmentation. However, cannaflavins have received little research, but what we do know shows us that flavonoids differentiate between strains in odor and flavor. Yet, cannaflavins are pharmalogically active and have show to provide anti-inflammatory measures equal to Aspirin.

Recently, flavonoids were used at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to treat pancreatic cancer, and the results were significant. The scientists constructed a specific drug using flavonoids called FBL-03G.

This is groundbreaking because previous research has shied away from using cannabis flavonoids in drugs because they are difficult to extract, but this research artificially synthesized these compounds and demonstrated a notable inhibition in cancer spreading inside the pancreas and even outside the local areas as well. In fact, cancer cells were even killed by the cannaflavins.

“The most significant conclusion is that tumor-targeted delivery of flavonoids, derived from cannabis, enabled both local and metastatic tumor cell kill, significantly increasing survival from pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Wilfred Ngwa, the lead researcher of the study, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “This has major significance, given that pancreatic cancer is particularly refractory to current therapies…We were quite surprised that the drug could inhibit the growth of cancer cells in other parts of the body, representing metastasis, that were not targeted by the treatment,” says Ngwa. “This suggests that the immune system is involved as well, and we are currently investigating this mechanism.”

This research study is significant because pancreatic cancer is extremely hostile to treatment. Pancreatic cancer is generally considered one of the most virulent of all cancers, with a survival rate of 20 percent after one year of diagnosis, and only nine percent after five years. It’s predicted to be the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., after lung cancer, according to The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed in the later stages and spreads quickly, so any additional therapeutic options for patients - especially those that seek out cancer cells – woud cause significant market interest.

“If successfully translated clinically, this will have major impact in treatment of pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Ngwa.

The next steps are clinical testing, which will be completed by the end of 2020. However, as stated above, one of the breakthroughs of the study goes outside of pancreatic cancer, and it is the potential in non-psychoactive derivatives of the cannabis plant like cannaflavins. And while it is encouraging that cannabis ultimately killed cancer cells here, the implications of using cannabis in treatment is fraught with complications.

The complications stem from the fact that the hype train about cannabis’s therapeutic effects has left the station and that statistically significant cannabis research lags so far behind. Recently, the FDA had to slap the wrist of CBD companies peddling oils and tinctures with descriptions saying it could aid Alzheimer’s and arthritis, when there are no studies clearly proving this. At the same time, Federal regulations have handcuffed researchers for generations from receiving cannabis for testing and this has created a gap in understanding the intricacies of the plant.

All told, this study is good news and the researchers are clearly showing others in the field an area to explore, but the downside – and it is a familiar song – is that our own government has inhibited the medical community for too many years. Just think, how many epilepsy patients would be better off if Epidiolex were approved ten years ago? Not to mention the fact that the same drug has shown to have impacts on other fields outside of epilepsy. Now the landscape is shifting toward legalization and the prospect leaves many scientists playing catch-up.

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