Deep Dive: Cannabis for Ovarian Cancer

Updated: Oct 3

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This 1,200-word Deep Dive teaches students about the latest peer-reviewed scientific research regarding the potential effectiveness and positive outcomes of cannabis for ovarian cancer.


A September 2022 research study entitled "Anti-Cancer Activity of Cannabis sativa Phytocannabinoids: Molecular Mechanisms and Potential in the Fight against Ovarian Cancer" that was published in the journal Cancers explored "the potential benefits of the combination of chemotherapy with phytocannabinoid treatment...in ovarian cancer patients."

The study noted that ovarian cancer "is the most lethal gynecological malignancy" and that "cannabis is used worldwide to alleviate numerous symptoms associated with various medical conditions." More specifically, the research reported that the cannabinoids produced by cannabis "have anti-cancer activity in cell lines and animal models."


"It is essential to find new means to fight ovarian cancer as it is the second most common gynecologic malignancy in the western world," reported the scientists.


Understanding Ovarian Cancer

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance based in Washington, D.C., in 2022, about "19,880 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 12,810 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States." The organization estimated that, in 2018, "approximately 235,081 women were alive who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer (including those who had been cured of the disease)."


In 2022, about "19,880 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 12,810 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States."

Ovarian Cancer Statistics

Ovarian cancer accounts for 2.5 percent of cancers in women and is the 11th most common cancer among women and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. The median age of patients at diagnosis is 63.

The Alliance reported that a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer is about one in 78, while their risk of dying from the disease is one in 108. It also published the following statistics:

  • Ovarian cancer survival rates are much lower than other cancers that affect women.

  • The relative five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 49 percent.

  • Women diagnosed at an early stage—before the cancer has spread—have a much higher five-year survival rate than those diagnosed at a later stage.

  • Approximately 16 percent of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed with early stage disease.

Ovarian Cancer Signs & Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, "when ovarian cancer first develops, it might not cause any noticeable symptoms." The famous clinic explained that, when ovarian cancer symptoms occur, "they're usually attributed to other, more common conditions."


The Clinic reported that signs of ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss, discomfort in pelvic area, fatigue, back pain, changes in bowel habits (including constipation), and the frequent need to urinate.


The Study

The research study cited noted that phytocannabinoids have the potential to increase the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs. The authors lamented the fact that "very few studies have examined the effectiveness of cannabis compounds against ovarian cancer" but that the compounds produced by cannabis "have been shown to affect genetic pathways and biological processes related to...ovarian cancer stem cells."


"There may be many benefits from combining the alternative therapy of phytocannabinoids with the traditional treatment of chemotherapy in the particular case of ovarian cancer patients."

The study noted that "phytocannabinoid-based treatments might be used to disrupt cancer stem cell homeostasis and thereby to prevent chemotherapy resistance" and that there may be many benefits from combining the alternative therapy of phytocannabinoids with the traditional treatment of chemotherapy in the particular case of ovarian cancer patients.

It reported that cannabis necessarily involves a complex biochemistry and that the herbal species produces "a large number of compounds, including more than 150 phytocannabinoids, a vast array of terpenes, and [a cannabis-specific form of flavonoids called] cannflavins."


Cancer Types & Cannabinoid Mechanisms

The study noted that several cannabinoids have demonstrated anti-cancer efficacy, "including in skin, prostate, lung, breast, and glioma cancer cells." It further explained that the mechanisms by which benefits and positive outcomes are experienced in these forms of cancer include "by inhibiting cell proliferation and migration, inhibiting angiogenesis, and inducing apoptosis."


Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels from existing ones, a process that helps cancerous tumors grow and spread. Apoptosis is a genetically pre-programmed mechanism by which cancer cells kill themselves, basically committing suicide.


"Apoptosis is a genetically programmed mechanism by which cancer cells kill themselves, basically committing suicide."

Endocannabinoid System & Cancer

The researchers explained that the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is found throughout the body and that "various diseases are associated with dysregulation of the ECS, including diabetes, obesity, depression and anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders, inflammation, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, glaucoma, and cancer." They added that, in many types of cancer, "ECS activity is altered."


Results

The study determined that the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds with both major types of cellular receptors in the ECS, CB1 (most dense in the brain and central nervous system) and CB2 (most common in the organs, tissues, and glands related to the immune system, outside of the brain).

The THC molecule


CBD & THC Benefits for Ovarian Cancer

Interestingly, the study associated THC's behavior of binding with particular receptor types with certain responses. "CB1 [receptor] activation by THC is associated with catalepsy, hypothermia, desensitization of pain, the suppression of locomotor activity, and appetite enhancement," reported the scientists, whereas CB2 activation by THC "is thought to have pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects."


The study found that CBD also binds with the CB1 receptors of the ECS and that this fact may "counteract THC activity." Anecdotally, patients and lifestyle consumers have reported using CBD to buffer the psychoactivity of THC, of particular value when too much of the infamous psychoactive cannabinoid produces disorientation, discomfort, or excessive anxiety.


CBD may also result in "anti-inflammatory, anti-psychotic, and anti-convulsive effects."

"This counter activity is suggested to reduce the unwanted side effects associated with THC treatment, including intoxication, tachycardia, anxiety, and sedation," reported the study. It added that CBD may also result in "anti-inflammatory, anti-psychotic, and anti-convulsive effects."


The study reported that CBD has been found to "inhibit the expression of...breast cancer cells" and that it led to "anti-metastatic activity" (less growth and spread of the cancer cells) in not only breast cancer, but also cancers of the "head and neck, prostate, and salivary glands."


Both THC and CBD were shown to produce positive outcomes in colorectal cancer cells, including inducing them to perform apoptosis.

Image courtesy Leafwize Naturals


Conclusions

The study concluded that "it is reasonable to suggest that chemotherapy or monotherapy treatments could be combined with phytocannabinoid(s) to reduce recurring ovarian cancer and resistance relapse."


The study's authors reported that treatment of ovarian cancer patients with both CBD and THC may increase their sensitivity to the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, giving it greater effectiveness against their cancer.


"Treatment of ovarian cancer patients with CBD and THC may increase their sensitivity to the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, giving it greater effectiveness."

The study concluded that conventional chemotherapy drugs and cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, and others "should be further explored in preclinical and clinical trials" and that "optimizing phytocannabinoid-based therapies necessitates an increased understanding of the molecular mechanisms...involved in phytocannabinoid anti-tumor activity."


View the original study.


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