A study conducted by Charles Darwin University (CDU) and RMIT has found that a cannabis extract, called PHEC-66, can cause cell death in melanoma tumors.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which in 85% of cases is caused by overexposure to the sun. According to the charity Cancer Research, there are over 16,000 new cases of melanoma in the UK each year.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Cells by RMIT’s Dr Ava Bachari, found that the cannabis extract binds to the receptors in melanoma cells, slowing down growth and increasing damage to the cells.
It is through this process that cells are tricked into killing themselves, study co-author and CDU pharmaceutical lecturer Dr Nazim Nassar explained. “The damage to the melanoma cell prevents it from dividing into new cells, and instead begins a programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis,” Dr. Nassar said.
“This is a growing area of important research because we need to understand cannabis extracts as much as possible, especially their potential to function as anticancer agents. If we know how they react to cancer cells, particularly in the cause of cell death, we can refine treatment techniques to be more specific, responsive and effective”.
The research in the study was carried out in vitro, meaning the cells were studied in the lab. However, the results add significant weight to the anti-cancer properties of cannabis and the impact of stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors in the human body’s endocannabinoid system. The study authors have published several other studies on the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, and highlighted the potential of PHEC-66 and other cannabis extracts in cancer treatment. “Clinical uses of cannabis extracts include treatment for anxiety, cancer-related symptoms, epilepsy, and chronic pain. Intensive research into its potential for killing melanoma cells is only the start as we investigate how this knowledge can be applied to treating different types of cancers,” Dr Nassar said.
Researchers will now focus on developing an effective delivery system for PHEC-66 so that it can move into pre-clinical trials.