Monday, August 31, 2009

Is pot the cure for cancer?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 11:26 AM

Um. We'll see. For now, here's some promising science for pot smokers to rejoice over: The same doctor who concluded that marijuana was toxic in the '70s now says it may cause malignant cells to die instead of multiply. (Translated: It may make cancer go away.)

How did that happen? Well, he took a second look. He was actually trying to prove that ganja causes cancer when his research proved otherwise.

To that we say: Puff puff pass, don't be a Bogart.

One in three Americans will be afflicted with cancer, we are told by the government (as if it’s our immutable fate and somehow acceptable). Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. and lung cancer the leading killer among cancers.

You’d think it would have been very big news in June 2005 when UCLA medical school professor Donald Tashkin reported that components of marijuana smoke -- although they damage cells in respiratory tissue -- somehow prevent them from becoming malignant. In other words, something in marijuana exerts an anti-cancer effect!

Tashkin has special credibility. He was the lead investigator on studies dating back to the 1970s that identified the components in marijuana smoke that are toxic. It was Tashkin et al. who published photomicrographs showing that marijuana smoke damages cells lining the upper airways. It was the Tashkin lab’s finding that benzpyrene -- a component of tobacco smoke that plays a role in most lung cancers -- is especially prevalent in marijuana smoke. It was Tashkin’s data showing that marijuana smokers are more likely than non-smokers to cough, wheeze, and produce sputum.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supported Tashkin’s marijuana-related research over the decades, readily gave him a grant in 2002 to conduct a large, population-based, case-controlled study that would prove definitively that heavy, long-term marijuana use increases the risk of lung and upper-airways cancers.

What Tashkin and his colleagues found, however, disproved their hypothesis. (Tashkin is to marijuana as a cause of lung cancer what Hans Blix was to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction -- an honest investigator who set out to find something, concluded that it wasn’t there, and reported his results.)

Tashkin’s team interviewed 1,212 cancer patients from the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance program, matched for age, gender, and neighborhood with 1,040 cancer-free controls. Marijuana use was measured in “joint years” (number of years smoked times number of joints per day).

It turned out that increased marijuana use did not result in higher rates of lung and pharyngeal cancer, whereas tobacco smokers were at greater risk the more they smoked. Tobacco smokers who also smoked marijuana were at slightly lower risk of getting lung cancer than tobacco-only smokers.

As to the highly promising implication of his own study –that something in marijuana stops damaged cells from becoming malignant— Tashkin noted that an anti-proliferative effect of THC has been observed in cell-culture systems and animal models of brain, breast, prostate, and lung cancer. THC has been shown to promote apoptosis (damaged cells die instead of reproducing) and to counter angiogenesis (the process by which blood vessels are formed —a requirement of tumor growth). Other antioxidants in cannabis may also be involved in countering malignancy, said Tashkin.

More from AlterNet.org.

I was gonna write something else, but then I got high ...

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