Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?

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New research found six cannabinoids – active components of the cannabis plant – that can slow or outright kill cancer cells. Don Ryan/AP

Recent research gives new hope and meaning to the phrase "medical marijuana."

In a paper published in October's Anticancer Research, Wai Liu, a senior research fellow at St. George's University of London, reports that he found six cannabinoids - active components of the cannabis plant - that can slow or outright kill cancer cells.

Though THC is the main cannabinoid associated with marijuana and has been recognized to have a "really strong anti-cancer effect," Liu says, "it's not a good candidate for therapeutic use because of its psychoactive properties."

He examined whether several lesser-known cannabinoids would impact the growth of leukemia cells both individually and in combination.

The result?

"They're good at killing cancer cells," he says. And "because they're not psychoactive, you can actually have the benefits associated with anti-cancer technology but not have the feelings of high, which are associated with THC."

Some cannabinoids are better at killing cancer cells and others are better at slowing their growth, so combining certain cannabinoids has a heightened effect. "It's like a double hit," he says.

Plus, they do not appear to target all rapidly dividing cells the way chemotherapy or radiation does - which leads to side effects, such as hair loss. Rather, they appear to attack just the cancer.

But don't fire up a joint quite yet, Liu cautions. "I'm not suggesting that people should smoke it. Smoking is a bad thing by a chemist's point of view. You can do a lot more harm than good. You can lose the essence of what makes an excellent anti-cancer agent by smoking it."

Recreational smokers probably won't derive any clinical benefits because marijuana contains many substances besides these cannabinoids and because some of them are psychoactive.

In other pot news, researchers have found that cannabis use disorder - essentially, when people use so much pot that it disrupts the rest of their life, but they continue to use it anyway - is comorbid with social anxiety disorder.

Researchers found that the social anxiety wasn't caused by the pot smoking. Rather, it's likely that these people are self-medicating for their anxieties. Explains study author Julia D. Buckner, assistant professor of psychology at Louisiana State University: "Some people may go to therapy, some people may use alcohol, some people use marijuana - but when anxious people use marijuana, they're more likely to continue to use it, despite experiencing marijuana-related problems."

That is, people who smoke too much pot are far more likely to be anxious, especially around other people. Especially around other people who aren't smoking pot.

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