Laboratory mice with pancreatic cancer that were treated with cannabidiol (CBD) in conjunction with chemotherapy lived as much as three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone, according to a new study released Monday. CBD is a non-psychoactive substance found in cannabis that shows great promise in the treatment of several serious medical conditions including cancer, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Dr. Marco Falasca is a lead researcher at Queen Mary University of London and Curtin University in Western Australia and one of the study’s authors. He said that plans are being made to explore the potential of using CBD to treat cancer of the pancreas in humans.
“Cannabidiol is already approved for use in clinics [in the UK], which means we can quickly go on to test this in human clinical trials,” said Falasca.
“If we can reproduce these effects in humans, cannabidiol could be in use in cancer clinics almost immediately, compared to having to wait for authorities to approve a new drug,” he added.
Falasca is working with the pharmaceutical company Zelda Therapeutics to study the medicinal uses of cannabis. The company is developing new cannabinoid therapies for chronic and fatal diseases including pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer, though relatively rare, is the 12th most common form of cancer worldwide. About 55,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, with a slightly higher occurrence of the disease in men than women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Pancreatic cancer is also deadly. In patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common type, the five-year survival rate when diagnosed at stage 1A is only about 14 percent. For patients diagnosed at Stage 4, that number drops to 1 percent. Survival rates for other forms of the disease are slightly higher.
“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available,” Falasca said. “Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is less than seven percent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.”
Dr. Chiari Braconi is a U.K. National Health Service oncology consultant and an Institute of Cancer Research scientist. She said that while the study is encouraging, much more research is needed before doctors will know if the treatment will work safely in human patients.
“Pancreatic cancer is one of the most hard-to-treat cancers, and new treatments are urgently needed,” said Braconi. “While the results look promising, there are still a number of important unknowns. We don’t know how cannabinoids will interact with other drugs, including chemotherapies, in people.”
Other research has shown that CBD may also be an effective treatment against other forms of cancer. Studies have shown that CBD could have potential as a therapy for cancer of the brain, bladder, breast, endocrine system, lungs, prostate, and skin as well as leukemia and Kaposi sarcoma.
CBD has also been shown to reduce nausea in patients, including nausea brought on by chemotherapy cancer treatments.