Could cannabis help cure lung cancer? This man thinks so – and he’s already spent £1.5m on research
Cannabis could be a cure for lung cancer, according to a research laboratory in Cardiff.
MediPen research facility in Cardiff have been experimenting with cannabinoids and its effectiveness in slowing down the growth of cancer cells, something their managing director says is the first of its kind in the world.
Metro.co.uk visited MediPen’s labs and spoke exclusively to managing director Jordan Owen, who told us: ‘The end goal is to bring a treatment to market for lung cancer.’
Lung cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that can spread very quickly.
Owen said: ‘The process which we’re currently going through now is looking at the cells. We want to slow down the process of metastasis. If we can slow down that process by doing different experiments with cannabinoids, then we can effectively slow down the growth of cancer.’
Such a breakthrough would no doubt change the lives of millions, but would also support the claims many pro-cannabis individuals have long believed: that this plant carries significant medicinal qualities.
Owen is excited about the research being carried out by his head scientist Jordan Copner and believes that when this treatment goes to market, it will be ‘ground-breaking’.
‘It will be huge,’ he says. ‘The first of its kind in the world. It will certainly shift perceptions of how people look at cannabis.’
But, as the research is in early stages, there is a question of just how realistic such a treatment could be.
Dr Wai Liu, a senior research fellow at St George’s University of London who has focused his work on developing novel approaches against cancer, outlines his views on such research: ‘Scientists are beginning to understand the mechanism of action of cannabinoids.
‘It appears that the processes that exist in some cancer cells that serve to maintain the growth and development of cancer can be deactivated by the agent [within the cannabinoids].
‘In doing so, cancer cells regain the ability to “die”. It is by exploiting this route in cancer cells that scientists believe that cannabinoids may be of use therapeutically.’
Despite the promising results which have been produced in lab experiments, Dr Liu says that this may not necessarily be a certified cure for lung cancer.
He said: ‘The potential of these drugs is exciting, but the frustration is that the early, pre-clinical evidence has yet to be tested in large formal randomised trials. Until these are completed, it is difficult to say with certainty whether these agents are truly anticancer.
‘So, the take-home message is that on paper, cannabinoids are anticancer, but translating this to the clinic has yet to be completed.’
We contacted a number of cancer charities such as CRUK, Macmillan, and other oncologists, but they declined to comment given the nature of the research and the early stages it is currently in.
It is clear that MediPen have adopted a progressive attitude towards the health benefits of cannabis.
Owen explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘We’re approaching around 15,000 studies, not just on the non-psychoactive side, but also on the psychoactive side such as THC, which can help with things like pain, anxiety.
‘I think if we study it in a proper scientific way, where we can look at the dosage and what certain products contain, then I think that will help a lot of people.’
The funding for the research does not come from the government. Instead, Jordan has launched a consumer range of products in order to back it.
The flagship product is the MediPen Cannabinoid Vaporizer, which is similar to an e-cigarette, just with the addition of cannabis oil.
It has helped raise £1.5m investment for the research programme.
This product – which is not a medicinal device – allows users to inhale cannabis oil, also known as CBD. As it contains no psychoactive elements, CBD is legal in the UK.
Owen said: ‘In terms of shifting public perception over the last few years, people have certainly come around to the idea of it’s not all about getting high, and there are other parts of the plant we can use for different things.’
But of course there are many who refuse to acknowledge the healing and positive properties of the cannabis plant.
Owen explained: ‘Since prohibition has been in place, the cannabis plant has been subject to a lot of misinformation and an overall negative media outlook.’
Furthermore, the stance currently adopted by the government is described by Owen as ‘prohibitionist’ and ‘extremely damaging’.
Owen used the recent US examples of legalisation to highlight the positive impact such a move could have for the UK economy.
He said: ‘A thriving legal medicinal cannabis market would positively affect our society as our economy could gain a much-needed financial boost as we’ve observed in the now 30 US states with legal access to medicinal cannabis.
‘Our great NHS healthcare system could finally be given the help it’s asking for by utilising the billions of pounds in tax revenue generated as a result of cannabis legalisation.’
The current status of cannabis in UK legislation is a schedule 1, and this states that there is no medicinal value to it.
This has provided a challenge for MediPen.
Owen said: ‘For a plant that has huge therapeutic potential, it is damaging for it to be scheduled in that way, because it makes it very hard for research to be carried out.’
The lack of funding is key, because currently MediPen are reliant on their product portfolio to provide the capital for their research.
Owen believes that by changing the scheduling of the drug, it will mean ‘funding for people who are doing research into cannabis, and make it easier for cannabis-based drugs to come to market’.
He added that ‘it’s very difficult at the moment’.
Despite the legal challenges, MediPen are still operating within the law.
The elements used in the research and the consumer products contain no THC, which is the illegal element in the UK.
Instead, by focusing on the non-psychoactive properties in the plant, MediPen are able to legally import cannabinoids for their research and consumer products from partner facilities in Colorado and the Czech Republic.
Although any potential treatment would take a few more years to come into the market, it is clear that such a discovery would change the perceptions of cannabis, and pave the way for more potentially life-changing discoveries.
In the US, medicinal use of cannabis is varied, although it is most frequently used to treat chronic pain as a result of diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia to irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
According to Dr Peter Grinspoon, a contributing editor to Harvard Health Blog, it has also been used to manage nausea, control weight loss, treat glaucoma and reduce tremors as a result of Parkinson’s.
It has even been suggested that it could be used to treat epilepsy.