Cannabis could hold the key to boosting survival rates in people with hard-to-treat pancreatic cancer, according to new research.
Mice with the disease lived almost three times longer after being given cannabidiol – also known as CBD – and chemotherapy compared to those receiving only chemotherapy.
Scientists are hopeful the stunning finding will also apply to humans – and are already planning trials.
Lead researcher Professor Marco Falasca from Queen Mary University of London said: “This is a remarkable result.
“We found mice with pancreatic cancer survived nearly three times longer if a constituent of medicinal cannabis was added to their chemotherapy treatment.”
Almost 10,000 Britons a year are struck down by the tumour.
Symptoms often don’t appear until it’s too late.
Fewer than one-in-seven patients survive – a rate that was roughly the same in the 1980s. Surgery is usually the only option.
Prof Falasca said: “Cannabidiol is already approved for use in clinics – which means we can quickly go on to test this in human clinical trials.
“If we can reproduce these effects in humans cannabidiol could be in use in cancer clinics almost immediately – compared to having to wait for authorities to approve a new drug.
“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few – and mostly only palliative care treatments available.
“Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is less than seven per cent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.”
CBD has been subject to an array of research in recent years and is widely known to have therapeutic benefits for dozens of ailments – including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
The study published in the journal Oncogene tested its impact on the commonly used chemotherapy drug Gemcitabine on mice with pancreatic cancer.
The disease is particularly aggressive and is one of the most deadly tumours anyone can develop.
Apple founder Steve Jobs along with actors Alan Rickman, Patrick Swayze and John Hurt are among those who have died from the disease.
It is the 11th most common cancer in the UK.
Importantly CBD does not cause psychoactive effects as opposed to THC – the compound in marijuana that produces the ‘high’.
As such it’s already cleared for use in the clinic and does not face the same challenges as products including cannabis oil – which contain controlled substances such as THC.
CBD is only responsible for therapeutic benefits from relieving pain to soothing anxiety.
The researchers said it is also known to improve the side effects of chemotherapy including nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Prof Falasca – whose team included Australian colleagues at Curtin University in Perth – said it could also improve the quality of life of patients undergoing chemotherapy.
But he pointed out the study only looked at the effect of this treatment in mice. Clinical trials are needed to confirm whether or not CBD improves survival rates of pancreatic cancer patients.
The study only looked at the effect of this treatment in mice, and clinical trials in humans are needed to confirm whether or not CBD improves survival rates of pancreatic cancer patients.
But it adds to growing excitement among doctors surrounding the medicinal properties of cannabis.
Earlier this month Government advisers in the UK declared doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) agreed cannabis does possess a medicinal benefit, in a review sent to to Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
He commissioned the review after two high profile cases, including that of epileptic 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, whose mother had seven bottles of cannabis oil that helped combat his seizures confiscated at Heathrow Airport.
The latest research was supported by the UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
It also involved researchers from The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Scotland.