Tetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis. THC extracts and oils have garnered attention as potential supportive treatments for cancer.
How thc oils are made?
Chemical extraction methods use solvents like ethanol, butane, CO2, or combinations of them to separate desirable compounds from the original cannabis plant. The resulting oils contain highly concentrated levels of THC, often 50% or more. It allows patients to get higher therapeutic doses without unusable psychoactivity. The extraction process also removes many other components of the plant, chiefly cannabidiol and terpenes. So THC extracts have a different chemical makeup than whole-plant medical marijuana. Their effects differ as well.
Evidence of antitumor properties in animals
Much research has examined the antitumor potentials of cannabis compounds over the past 50 years. However, most studies involve animals rather than humans. Many have found THC and other cannabinoids to inhibit tumor growth and selectively cause cell death in cancer cells in mice and rats. As an example, a 2018 study found that a cannabis extract high in THC and low in CBD reduced tumor size and cancer markers in mice with pancreatic cancer. Another study from the same year used THC alone, without other cannabinoids, to effectively treat glioma brain tumors in rats. Scientists have also reported inhibition of liver, breast, and lung cancers in animal models.
Furthermore, investigations into mechanisms have shed light on how THC attacks tumors. It appears to interfere with signaling pathways and proteins that cancer cells need to survive, grow, and spread. There is also evidence that THC has anti-inflammatory effects in animal tumor experiments. Chronic inflammation often underlies cancer development.
Human clinical research
Test tube and animal findings show promise that THC has antitumor abilities. Many cancer patients currently use various cannabis preparations to help with treatment side effects like pain, nausea, and sleep issues. However, human research directly testing THC oils for cancer is still emerging. Most studies thus far have limitations in their design and sample size. So far, one phase II clinical trial looked specifically at THC concentration and cancer treatment. In this study, 21 patients with recurrent glioblastoma brain tumors took FDA-approved THC capsules. Tumor cell death increased in some patients, and their median survival time was 14 months compared to the 6-10 months average. It suggests THC did extend lifespan to a degree. However, all patients eventually died, highlighting THC’s limitations.
Smaller human studies have also been inconclusive but encouraging. One examined nine patients with aggressive brain cancers taking CBD and THC extracts alongside chemotherapy. Those who received higher THC doses showed increased cancer cell death. Yet another study tracked disease progression in six patients taking oral thc oil for various treatment stages. Two patients saw some tumor shrinkage, though all eventually progressed. While human studies hint at efficacy, robust clinical confirmation is needed in large controlled trials before determining THC’s viability as a cancer treatment. Researchers continue working toward reproducible results on THC oil’s safety and effectiveness.