The Australian Parliament amended their Narcotic Drugs Act in February of last year to allow for medical cannabis, and since then, their commitment to research for its potential health benefits has been substantial.
Doctors in Queensland have conducted clinical trials using CBD extract to treat children with epilepsy. Further to that study, they are testing vaporizers on palliative care patients to provide quick relief from symptoms. And now, researchers at Curtin University in Perth will begin their efforts to tackle one of the most lethal diseases on the planet — pancreatic cancer.
At the moment, pancreatic cancer is on its way to being the second-leading cause of cancer-related death by the year 2030. Pancreatic cancer also has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers.
Professor Marco Falasca is a researcher at Curtin University with more than 30 years of experience, and he is heading up the efforts to study the effects of marijuana on this fatal disease.
“At the beginning of my career, I started studying a bioactive lipid called lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI) which has a structure similar to endogenous cannabinoids. At that time the receptor for this lipid was still unknown,” said Falasca in an interview with Marijuana.com. Falasca went on to add that in 2007, scientists discovered a cannabinoid receptor known as GPR55, which quickly opened a door for further cancer treatment studies.
Professor Falasca said that the evidence suggests cannabis can help other treatments currently used for this illness. “Our data, although still experimental, is very promising as we have seen that cannabis’ components can potentiate the activity of drugs currently in use to treat pancreatic cancer. We hope to see these results confirmed soon in patients.”
For Falasca, the study of pancreatic cancer is an obvious choice due to its unique dangers. “Amongst all cancers, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate. It is a highly aggressive and fast progressing disease that is rarely diagnosed at an early stage and extremely difficult to treat due to its resistance to radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new effective treatments to increase pancreatic cancer patients’ chances of survival.”
Falasca said that up until this point, most pancreatic cancer treatments have been focused on “improving the quality of life for palliative patients.” But his outlook receives a healthy dose of optimism through cannabis research. “If this treatment has the same positive results in patients as we have seen in our studies in mice, this could be a significant advancement in pancreatic cancer therapy.”
The professor is eager to study the results of the clinical trials, but is quick to point out that cannabis at the moment, is simply a substance that can help other treatments do their job and not an all-out cure for pancreatic cancer. “We are close to finding out whether this treatment is efficacious for pancreatic cancer patients, but we must remember that the effect we have seen is due to the combination of cannabis components with existing drugs. We haven’t seen the same strong result using cannabis components alone.”
The world will be watching Professor Falasca and his colleagues as they attempt to create a medicine that will finally crack the shell of this blight on humanity. Cautious optimism is clearly the mood of the day as this important research gets going.
Time will tell if pancreatic cancer can be weakened by this miracle drug. At the very least, the fact that Australia and other forward-thinking countries have “loosened the shackles” in regards to cannabis reform, means that researchers can do their job and ensure that the world’s population will have the opportunity for longer, healthier lives.
Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett