The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new
meaning in February when
researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain cancer
tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in
The Madrid study marks only the second time that THC has
to tumor-bearing animals; the first was a Virginia investigation 26 years
ago. In both studies, the THC shrank or destroyed tumors in a majority of
the test subjects.
Most Americans don't know anything about the Madrid discovery.
U.S. newspapers carried the story, which ran only once on the AP and UPI
news wires, on Feb. 29, 2000.
The ominous part is that this isn't the first time scientists
discovered that THC shrinks tumors. In 1974 researchers at the Medical
College of Virginia, who had been funded by the National Institute of Health
to find evidence that marijuana damages the immune system, found instead
that THC slowed the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice -- lung and
breast cancer, and a virus-induced leukemia.
The DEA quickly shut down the Virginia study and all further
research, according to Jack Herer, who reports on the events in his book,
"The Emperor Wears No Clothes." In 1976 President Gerald Ford put an end to
all public cannabis research and granted exclusive research rights to major
pharmaceutical companies, who set out -- unsuccessfully -- to develop
synthetic forms of THC that would deliver all the medical benefits without
The Madrid researchers reported in the March issue of
"Nature Medicine" that
they injected the brains of 45 rats with cancer cells, producing tumors
whose presence they confirmed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). On
the 12th day they injected 15 of the rats with THC and 15 with Win-55,212-2
a synthetic compound similar to THC.
"All the rats left untreated uniformly died 12-18 days
after glioma (brain
cancer) cell inoculation ... Cannabinoid (THC)-treated rats survived
significantly longer than control rats. THC administration was ineffective
in three rats, which died by days 16-18. Nine of the THC-treated rats
surpassed the time of death of untreated rats, and survived up to 19-35
days. Moreover, the tumor was completely eradicated in three of the treated
rats." The rats treated with Win-55,212-2 showed similar results.
The Spanish researchers, led by Dr. Manuel Guzman of Complutense
also irrigated healthy rats' brains with large doses of THC for seven days,
to test for harmful biochemical or neurological effects. They found none.
"Careful MRI analysis of all those tumor-free rats showed
no sign of damage
related to necrosis, edema, infection or trauma ... We also examined other
potential side effects of cannabinoid administration. In both tumor-free and
tumor-bearing rats, cannabinoid administration induced no substantial change
in behavioral parameters such as motor coordination or physical activity.
Food and water intake as well as body weight gain were
unaffected during and
after cannabinoid delivery. Likewise, the general hematological profiles of
cannabinoid-treated rats were normal. Thus, neither biochemical parameters
nor markers of tissue damage changed substantially during the 7-day delivery
period or for at least 2 months after cannabinoid treatment ended."
Guzman's investigation is the only time since the 1974
Virginia study that
THC has been administered to live tumor-bearing animals. (The Spanish
researchers cite a 1998 study in which cannabinoids inhibited breast cancer
cell proliferation, but that was a "petri dish" experiment that didn't
involve live subjects.)
In an email interview for this story, the Madrid researcher
said he had
heard of the Virginia study, but had never been able to locate literature on
it. Hence, the Nature Medicine article characterizes the new study as the
first on tumor-laden animals and doesn't cite the 1974 Virginia
"I am aware of the existence of that research. In fact
I have attempted many
times to obtain the journal article on the original investigation by these
people, but it has proven impossible." Guzman said.
In 1983 the Reagan/Bush Administration tried to persuade
universities and researchers to destroy all 1966-76 cannabis research work,
including compendiums in libraries, reports Jack Herer, who states, "We know
that large amounts of information have since disappeared."
Guzman provided the title of the work -- "Antineoplastic
cannabinoids," an article in a 1975 Journal of the National Cancer Institute
-- and this writer obtained a copy at the UC medical school library in Davis
and faxed it to Madrid.
The summary of the Virginia study begins, "Lewis lung
was retarded by the oral administration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and
cannabinol (CBN)" -- two types of cannabinoids, a family of active
components in marijuana. "Mice treated for 20 consecutive days with THC and
CBN had reduced primary tumor size."
The 1975 journal article doesn't mention breast cancer
featured in the only newspaper story ever to appear about the 1974 study --
in the Local section of the Washington Post on August 18, 1974. Under the
headline, "Cancer Curb Is Studied," it read in part:
"The active chemical agent in marijuana curbs the growth
of three kinds of
cancer in mice and may also suppress the immunity reaction that causes
rejection of organ transplants, a Medical College of Virginia team has
discovered." The researchers "found that THC slowed the growth of lung
cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice, and
prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent."
Guzman, writing from Madrid, was eloquent in his response
after this writer
faxed him the clipping from the Washington Post of a quarter century ago. In
translation, he wrote:
"It is extremely interesting to me, the hope that the
project seemed to
awaken at that moment, and the sad evolution (lastimosa evolucion) of events
during the years following the discovery, until now we once again Ždraw back
the veil' over the anti-tumoral power of THC, twenty-five years later.
Unfortunately, the world bumps along between such moments of hope and long
periods of intellectual castration."
News coverage of the Madrid discovery has been virtually
nonexistent in this
country. The news broke quietly on Feb. 29 with a story that ran once on the
UPI wire about the Nature Medicine article. The New York Times, Washington
Post and Los Angeles Times all ignored the story, even though its newsworthiness
is indisputable: a benign substance occurring in nature destroys deadly brain tumors.
For the full story, pick up "The Emperor Wears No Clothes"
by Jack Herer, or
log on for excerpts from the book at www.jackherer.com.
Raymond Cushing is a regular contributor to the Sacramento
News & Review
and the Anderson Valley (CA)