Monday, March 20, 2006

Inhale and save your life--or not.

You can smoke that joint to fight your cancer but don't you dare enjoy yourself--What would the Food and Drug Administration do if scientists could prove that smoking marijuana--or at least taking tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)--could cure cancer? Probably nothing. Mythology and politics trumps science every time in Washington, and that preceded even George W.

Last year, researchers in Britain published a paper asserting that marijuana (or at least the THC) had potential as a cancer treatment. In some people, it mitigates the effects of chemotherapy, dulls pain, and stimulates the appetite (and you might have a nice time). This month the same researchers, at Barts and Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry at London University, published another paper claiming that cannabis kills leukemia cells. It appears to be one in a small collection of papers pointing to possible anti-tumor effects. [Got enough modifiers for you?] The paper was published in Letters in Drug Design & Discovery, which I am sure sits on your desk right now. No? Well, what the hell you think I'm here for. [Doesn't seem to be online yet]

According to a release [click headline] from Queen Mary's:
Now [the researchers], using highly sophisticated microarray technology – allowing them to simultaneously detect changes in more than 25,000 genes in cells treated with THC – have begun to uncover further the existence of crucial processes through which THC can kill cancer cells and potentially promote survival. Further, [they] found that the mechanism of cannabis may be independent of the presence of receptors – proteins found on the surface of cells to which other signalling molecules bind. Binding of molecules to receptors elicits a response in the cell, be it growth or death. The finding that cannabis action may not require the presence of these receptors introduces the possibility that the drug may be used more widely as the cancer cell’s dependence on the cannabis receptor is removed.

I hasten to point out that I have no idea if this paper has real merit, but I think it would be wonderful if it did, in part because it would help fight cancer, of course, and in part to watch the fun in the political world. I also point it out because, as we've discussed before, scientists outside the U.S. are doing interesting and important science that never gets a moment's attention among American science writers or in the media. Someone ought to pay attention.

1 comment:

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