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10 October 2011
Cannabis compound 'eases nerve pain caused by cancer drugs'
Cannabis can help ease the pain suffered by cancer patients after chemotherapy, say scientists.
They found a chemical in the class B drug prevents some of the side effects that develop following treatment, particularly for victims of breast tumours.
Dr Sara Jane Ward and a team from Temple University, Philadelphia, found the second most abundant compound in the cannabis plant, stopped nerve pain caused by the drug Paclitaxel in female mice.
A compound found in cannabis, which is a class B drug,
reduced nerve pain in a study on mice
Dr Ward, an expert in substance abuse at Temple University, Philadelphia, said: 'We found cannabidiol (CBD) completely prevented the onset of the neuropathic, or nerve pain caused by the chemo drug Paclitaxel, which is used to treat breast cancer.'
The researchers also found unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the other main chemical in cannabis, there was no psycho-active effect such as euphoria, increased appetite or cognitive deficits.
Smoking cannabis has been found to be a major cause of psychotic illnesses in those who are genetically vulnerable.
Dr Ward, whose study is published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, said: 'Cannabidiol has the therapeutic qualities of marijuana but not the side-effects.'
She said CBD has also demonstrated the ability to decrease the size of tumours in mice, which could make it an effective therapy for breast cancer, especially if you 'combined it with a chemo agent like Paclitaxel, which we already know works well.'
Her research has long focused on systems in the brain that are impacted by cannabis and whether those systems could be targeted in the treatment of various disorders.
Dr Ward said: 'Marijuana binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the body and researchers have long been interested in whether there is therapeutic potential for targeting this receptor system.'
There are currently about ten clinical trials underway in the US for CBD on a range of different disorders including cannabis dependence, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
Dr Ward hopes a clinical trial for CBD as a therapy against chemo-induced nerve pain will follow.
Previous lab tests on breast cancer cells have suggested CBD stops the activity of a gene called Id-1 which is responsible for their aggressive spread away from the original tumour site - a process called metastasis.
Past work has also shown CBD can block aggressive human brain cancers.
Cannabis was first recognised as medically beneficial 5,000 years ago in the reign of the Chinese emperor Chen Nung, for malaria, constipation and even absent-mindedness.
Cannabis is a class B drug, meaning it is illegal to possess or sell and carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
It was downgraded by the Labour government between 2004 and 2008 to class C, with a maximum two-year prison sentence.