THC-and-glioma update

Yes, that study is real science. No, it’s nowhere near showing clinical potential, let alone clinical efficacy.

Someone who does this stuff for a living saw my post about the THC-kills-glioma-cells paper and sent me an email to tell me what it means.

Bottom line: Yes, it’s science. No, it doesn’t even get close to showing clinical potential, let alone clinical efficacy.

Funny that you mentioned this study&#8212I’ve always wondered what you would actually think about this area of research&#8212as I happen to work on a related field of study (similar biochemical pathways investigated in this paper, but more general aspects of the matter as

related to cancer, and definitely not on cannabinoids’ mechanism of action).

This isn’t the first time Velasco et al have published on THC-like compounds inhibiting cancer cells in vitro before (you can check his record on Pubmed&#8212that’s his speciality), but by far his most famous study was his 2006 Cancer Cell paper, which actually made the cover of that particular issue of Cancer Cell (and yes Cancer Cell is definitely a top journal in the field).

With any of these pharmacology studies, the inherent tendency, especially by MSM (and

university press releases which feed them the facts) is to oversell the issue&#8212they are nowhere near using THC as chemotherapy. The nickel summary is that there is a vast body of literature with a similar design. The great majority are crap: throw your favourite compound or natural extract on cells (which are invariably tumour derived, because they are the easiest to culture in petri dishes) and dose up until you kill them, and then claim that your favourite compound is a potential anti-cancer therapeutic.

And usually these studies are poorly controlled because the appropriate non-cancer cell line is not used or even if it is used, it’s most often an “apples and oranges” type comparison anyway. And in a living whole organism, physiology changes everything, so what applies to cells doesn’t apply to animal (or man).

I won’t comment on the JCI study which I have not read, but what separates the Cancer Cell paper from others like it that he uses two very similar cancer cell lines, one which is resistant to THC induced death and the other which is sensitive, and he uses them to delineate exactly what makes them different, at the molecular level. His in vivo xenograft stuff (basically injecting cancer cells into immunocomprimised mice, which develop into tumors&#8212not real correlates to a bona fide mouse of model of cancer, but a quick and

dirty approximation) doesn’t look that impressive, but that’s what sells the paper to high-impact journal like Cancer Cell.

And really, that is the first step in which a lab (in academia or big pharma) would use to evaluate the potential of compound to turn into a “drug lead”. But that’s not the real point or interest in the paper&#8212mechanism was the crux and significance of the paper and his “genetic”

arguments seem to hold through the entire paper. But of course what gets spun the media, is that “pot cures cancer” and I suspect this JCI is of a similar nature.

A million years ago, when I was a fresh MPP grad working for a Congressman, I discovered that the job came with an enormous perk: very smart people were eager to teach me stuff. Blogging is a lot like that. RBC’s comments section is still busted due to a hyperactive comment-spam filter, but if you know something that will correct one of my posts, please send me an email. I will be genuinely grateful.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: