To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to make cannabis available to people with medical conditions that can be alleviated using the drug. Many people understand the laws in terms of offering compassionate pain relief and appetite stimulation for people suffering devastating illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Last week, researchers from St. George's University, London published a study in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics that demonstrates that the active chemicals in marijuana -- cannabinoids -- when used with standard radiation treatment can shrink aggressive brain tumors called gliomas. Patients with high grade gliomas like those suffering with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) have very low survival rates.
In the study, mice in the most successful experimental group received treatment that paired radiation therapy with a low-dose combination two cannabinoids: THC, the chemical that induces a marijuana "high", and cannabidiol, a component of the drug that doesn't produce a psychoactive effect. Other mice got only radiation and others got radiation combined with a higher dose of one of the two cannabinoids. The mice who got the low-dose combination plus radiation had the best results, with some of their tumors shrinking to one-tenth their original size.
This is not a cure for brain cancer. However, if the treatment's tumor-shrinking prowess translates to humans, it would offer patients a valuable commodity in improving their prognoses: time.
Only about 36% of patients with aggressive gliomas like GBM, survive more than one year and fewer than 10% are alive 5 years after their diagnosis.
Catherine Ivy, the founder of the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation, which was not involved in the study, but which has committed more than $50 million to brain tumor research has said that, in the short term, her organization's goal is to double the life expectancy of patients with brain tumors so that there is time to find cures. Advances like this one, along with the electronic cap that we blogged about earlier this week appear to be driving patients and researchers toward the goal.
(5AM Solutions has worked with the Ivy Foundation in the past, and you can read a case study here.)
Besides brain cancer, marijuana has also shown some promise in helping to slow the spread of HIV. In February, the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses published a study by researchers at the University of Louisiana in New Orleans showing that monkeys with SIV -- the simian version of HIV -- who received a daily dose of THC for 17 months had much less immune tissue damage to their stomachs, a site to which the virus spreads easily, than monkeys that didn't get the THC treatment. Again, not a cure, but the ability to slow down the progress of the disease buys researchers time to home in on cures.