Indian scientists working on cannabis-based painkillers
Small marijuana plants grow in a lab at the new Commercial Cannabis Production Program at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, October 9, 2018. Picture taken October 9, 2018.(Reuters)
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) are working with two compounds derived from cannabis to create potential drugs for treating epilepsy and extreme pain in cancer patients. The drug will contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two of the nearly 120 components of cannabis.
“There is a lot of misconception about cannabis owing mainly to its abuse because of its psychotropic component, THC. But the two compounds are also very effective for pain relief,” said Dr Ram Vishwakarma, director, IIIM, a central institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
For the cancer drug, IIIM is looking at a combination of both THC and CBD.
“For effective pain relief for cancer patients, both the components are needed as one is effective for pain originating in the central nervous system and the other for the pain of the peripheral nervous system,” said Dr Vishwakarma.
The institute has carried out some animal trials that have shown the combination to be very effective and “the pill” is ready for a clinical trial, he said.
The organisation has already written to the Drug Controller General of India for necessary permissions. Once granted, the trial will be conducted at the Tata Memorial Centre.
“It will be a randomised trial where some patients will be given a placebo, some the drug with the isolated active ingredient, and some the cannabinoid oil along with some herbs to enhance its effect. These will be given along with approved treatments and we will look at the pain management and antiemetic (drug against vomiting) properties,” said Dr RA Badwe, director, Tata Memorial Centre.
Currently, cancer patients are given opioid-based drugs like morphine and fentanyl. Opioids are derived from unripe seedpods of opium poppy plant. The cannabidiol-based drug could provide an alternative that is less habit forming.
IIIM will also look at whether the same drug can be used for relieving the pain of patients with sickle-cell anaemia as part of the national mission.
The epilepsy drug that IIIM is working with uses pure CBD, just like the drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in June this year.
Simultaneously, the IIIM is working with Bombay Hemp Company, a startup dedicated to studying medical uses of cannabis, to standardise the plant from which the compounds will be derived.
“Pain management is a very important component of cancer treatment as it majorly improves the quality of life, especially now that the patients are living longer. However, there are already several approved pain-relieving drugs that are available and there has to be proper clinical trials before cannabis based drugs can be used as alternatives,” said Dr Abhishek Shanker from the department of preventive oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.
The IIIM is also working with the government to ensure that just like opium, cannabis farming is licensed under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPC) Act.
The IIIM, which grows its own cannabis, was the first to receive a license for research purposes. Although the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) allows growing low THC or non-narcotic cannabis, the states, barring Uttarakhand, do not have mechanisms for issuing licenses and then buying back the cannabis.
“And, for medicinal purposes, we might need high THC plants too. We are in talks with the government to have a policy like it does for opium,” said Vishwakarma.
Cbd oil for cancer in india
Over the past two decades, the medical community has discovered that medical marijuana can treat a startlingly wide range of illnesses ranging from epilepsy to anxiety to chronic pain. Some researchers even believe that cannabis can be used to treat cancer, an illness that is responsible for over half a million deaths a year in the US alone.
As promising as this idea sounds, there are actually very few studies that have examined whether cannabinoids can help treat the symptoms of cancer or even stop the growth of the disease. A team of researchers from Amity Institute of Biotechnology in India recently conducted a meta-analysis of the existing research on cannabis and cancer, and concluded that the results of these preliminary studies are too exciting to ignore.
“Cannabis was extensively utilized for its medicinal properties till the 19th century,” the researchers wrote. “A steep decline in its medicinal usage was observed later due to its emergence as an illegal recreational drug.”
The study goes on to note that even though researchers across the world have spent decades trying to find a cure for cancer, “the utilization of THC and [cannabis] derivatives is still unexplored pharmacologically owing to their ‘habit-forming’ nature.”
The study begins with an exploration of prior research showing how cannabis-based medications can effectively treat symptoms of nausea and loss of appetite commonly experienced by individuals undergoing chemotherapy. These discoveries led to the creation of several synthetically-derived THC medications, like Dronabinol and Nabilone, which are now legal in many countries.
The study also notes that “for centuries, cannabinoids have been used as analgesics and surgical anesthesia in ancient China, amelioration of childbirth pain in Israel, and also were widely recognized as potent analgesics in Asia throughout the middle age[s].” Recent research has confirmed that these ancient treatments were valid, as cannabis does indeed have analgesic effects in addition to anti-inflammatory properties.
A small, but slowly expanding field of research is finding that cannabis may be able to do far more than treat the symptoms of cancer, however. The study explains that cannabinoids seem to “exert potent [anti-growth] activity and activate various apoptotic mechanisms eventually leading to cell death” of cancer cells found in glioma, an aggressive brain cancer. In one prior study, glioma patients who received a proprietary blend of THC and CBD lived for an average of one year longer than patients who received a placebo.
In other studies, synthetic cannabinoids were found to actually promote the death of cancer cells responsible for certain kinds of blood or prostate cancer. The researchers note that few professionals have looked into the effects of cannabis on breast, lung, oral, or liver cancer. The few studies that have still show promise, however. In one study, THC was found to be effective against a treatment-resistant form of oral cancer. In another, synthetic CBD helped inhibit the invasiveness of breast cancer.
The study concludes that preliminary research has confirmed that cannabinoids may well have the potential to treat — even cure — cancer, but the ongoing prohibition of cannabis is hampering scientists’ efforts to thoroughly research these possibilities.
“Research evidences on cannabinoids have suggested tumor inhibiting and suppressing properties which warrant reconsidering legality of the substance,” the researchers wrote. “Studies on [cannabinoid] receptors, in case of cancers, have demonstrated the psychoactive constituents of cannabinoids to be potent against tumor growth.”