Politics harming research on marijuana's anti-cancer properties?

September 21, 2004

Indo-Asian News Service , New Kerala

Health India] Washington, Sep 22 : Even as research findings confirm marijuana's anti-cancerous properties, a stoic disinterest on the part of the US government to fund further research raises questions about its priorities, UPI reports.

Results of clinical research at Madrid's Complutense University showing components in marijuana derived from the cannabis plant inhibits the growth of cancerous brain tumours have been published by the journal of American Association of Cancer Research.

The finding that cannabis restricts the blood supply to Gliobastoma multiforme tumours, an aggressive brain tumour that kills some 7,000 people in the US every year, has been released in the backdrop of scant media coverage of the topic in the US as its government has not acknowledged the research abroad.

That is despite the fact that the first experiment documenting pot's anti-tumour effects took place in 1974 at the Medical College of Virginia at the behest of the US government.

The results of that study, reported in August 1974, were that marijuana's psychoactive component 'THC slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukaemia in laboratory mice and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent'.

Despite the early success, US officials banished the study and refused to fund follow up research until conducting a similar -- though secret -- clinical trial in the mid-1990s.

That $2 million study, conducted by the US National Toxicology Programme, concluded that mice and rats administered high doses of THC over long periods had greater protection against malignant tumours than untreated controls.

However, government researchers shelved the results, which only became public after the findings were leaked in 1997 to a medical journal, which in turn forwarded the story to the national media.

Since the completion of that trial, the US government has yet to fund a single additional study examining the drug's potential anti-cancer properties leaving room for conjecture whether federal bureaucrats were putting politics over health and safety of patients.

Scientists overseas picked up where US researchers abruptly left off.

In 1998, a research team at Complutense's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology discovered that THC could selectively induce programme cell death in brain tumours without affecting healthy cells.

In 2000, they reported in the journal Nature Medicine that injections of synthetic THC eradicated malignant gliomas (brain tumours) in one-third of treated rats and prolonged life in another third by six weeks.

Last year, researchers at the University of Milan in Naples reported that non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana inhibited the growth of glioma cells in a dose-dependent manner and selectively targeted and killed malignant cells through a process known as apoptosis.

Researchers reported earlier this month that marijuana's constituents inhibited the spread of brain cancer in human tumour biopsies from patients who had failed standard cancer therapies.

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