Fact or Fiction: Does THC Kill Cancer Cells?


For several years, there has been talk about marijuana as a cancer cure. Since the government labeled marijuana as an illicit drug, opponents of legalization have argued that marijuana was more harmful than tobacco. In the last decade, as legalization has become more and more a reality, researchers have looked deeper into the positive and negatives. Today, we want to discuss, “Does THC kill cancer?”

RELATED: SF Doctors Find THC Kills Cancer Cells in Rats

Several years ago, British researchers reported that marijuana does kill leukemia cells, cancers that typically start in bone marrow and cause a high number of abnormal white blood cells. The study showed cannabinoids, the active constituents of cannabis, strike several processes the cancers need to survive.

This study examined the outcome of six different non-psychoactive cannabinoids, specifically those compounds that do not cause the “high” associated with THC. The results showed the compounds turned off the pathways that allowed the cancer cells to grow. However, the research focused on only leukemia cancer cells grown in a lab.

The National Cancer Institute, at the National Institutes of Health, reports there are several cancer studies underway:

  • Using cannabidiol (CBD), one of at least 85 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis, to treat tumors.
  • Use of an oral spray using delta-9-THC and CBD, both cannabinoids, used along side temozolomide, a drug used to treat brain tumors, for recurrent glioblastoma multiforme.
  • Use of CBD as treatment for acute graft-versus-host disease in patients who have gone through allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

Of the studies completed thus far, cannabinoids kill cancers cells in mice and rats. Studies with mice have also shown a potential to cut the risk of colon cancer and as a useful treatment. Research done specifically on delta-9-THC showed the compounded damage or killed liver cancer cells, and had an effect on the molecules in non-small cell lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells.

Studies with cannabidiol showed cell death with breast cancer cells with no damage to normal breast cells. CBD, combined with chemotherapy, kills glioma cells, a form of brain cancer. When combined with delta-9-THC, chemotherapy was more effective. However, these have all been laboratory studies, primarily with mice.

There has been no approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat cancer with cannabinoids or cannabis. Cannabis is also not approved to treat any side effects of cancer therapy or cancer-related symptoms. Be that as it may, there is approval of the cannabinoids dronabinol and nabilone to treat chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting when standard therapy is not effective.

So, does THC kill cancer? Things do look hopeful. But we all know that promising results in mice do not always translate to humans. It is interesting that one day smoking cannabis could be a treatment for lung cancer.


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Want to learn more? Check these stories out:

CBD: A Promising Treatment for Breast Cancer

Tasty Medicine: Why You Should Make Your Own Cannabis Edibles

Why do People Use Medical Marijuana?


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