By Ayman Juzi
Researchers from the University of South Carolina in Columbia (USC), USA have found THC effectively preventing inflammation and stopping the spread of colon cancer in mice. They found that the THC lessened symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), namely colonic inflammation, as well as preventing the development of tumours associated with ulcerative colitis. The paper, published in international journal iScience was headed up by Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti - he stated
“The fact that we were able to show that treatment with THC prevents inflammation in the colon and at the same time inhibits the development of colon cancer supports the notion that inflammation and colon cancer are closely linked”.
The research found that THC binds to CB2 which has a direct effect on immune cells, specifically those in the gastrointestinal system of the mice’s bodies. The CBD2 receptors have a modulation effect on the gastrointestinal system which in practice has the potential to be helpful to patients of IBD. The study provides intricate detail of the pathway process: when the THC binds with the CB2 receptors, cells in the intestine secrete anti-inflammatory molecules. These molecules recruit regulatory T cells which resolve inflammation and protect against cancer.
The researchers were excited by the results, but believe that THC may not be the final answer. Study co-author Dr. Mitzi Nagarkatti, who is chair of the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery at USC said “Compounds that activate CB2 and cause no psychoactive effects may be beneficial to prevent IBD and colon cancer.” The researchers expressed concern that THC has psychoactive properties, and want to use this research as a stepping stone to find other cannabinoids or compounds that activate CB2 - but have no psychoactive effect.
IBD includes two conditions; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis - it has been an “expanding global health problem” since the end of the 20th century, and has hit certain countries such as the US harder. Across the states just over 3 million adults were diagnosed with IBD in 2015. It's also increasingly affecting young people and has been tied directly to colon cancer. Research has found that the onset of IBD increases the chances of developing tumours.
This new study is promising news for solving this international health issue - however it has its limitations. The main being that researchers demonstrate THC providing a preventative effect as opposed to a cure. However, The research has deepened the understanding of IBD and colon cancer in general, and will be of great use in future study of these conditions. A further limitation is that tests took place on mice, but should these findings be applicable to humans the potential applications could be profound in individuals who are at a higher risk of developing IBD and colon cancer.