The putative medicinal property of cannabis has been known for some time; however, the fundamental issue with using cannabis in its whole form as a medicine is its psychoactive properties. Therefore, the specific active components of the plant have been extracted. These are called the phytocannabinoids and there are around 140 of them. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a leading medicinal candidates, which is devoid of the psychoactivity.
Studies suggest CBD exhibit anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. These studies also suggest that it could be used with conventional therapies resulting in activity in a variety of different cancer types. Although it still is a little unclear what the exact mechanism is that underpins these effects, the possibility that side effects could be minimised by reducing doses of chemotherapy/radiotherapy, but still achieve sufficient anticancer activity is particularly exciting.
The sequence of treatment is important; we have shown that the first drug can increase proteins that promote apoptosis. This means that a subsequent hit to the cell with another drug is more likely to result in death. Indeed, our results in leukaemia showed that using chemotherapy before cannabinoids resulted in more apoptosis compared to the reverse order.
We think it is important to understand the biochemistry of these drugs in a number of cancers, as this allows us to identify those diseases most likely to benefit from its use. Developing this body of work will help our intention to initiate clinical trials using these drugs as treatments for certain forms of cancer.