Laboratory tests conducted at the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute have shown that a modified form of medicinal cannabis can kill or inhibit cancer cells without impacting normal cells, revealing its potential as a treatment rather than simply a relief medication.
The significant outcome follows three years of investigations by cancer researcher Dr Matt Dun in collaboration with biotech company Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG), which produces a cannabis variety containing less than 1 per cent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive component commonly associated with marijuana. The plant, known as ‘Eve’, has high levels of the compound cannabidiol (CBD).
“ANTG wanted me to test it against cancer, so we initially used leukaemia cells and were really surprised by how sensitive they were,” Dr Dun says. “At the same time, the cannabis didn’t kill normal bone marrow cells, nor normal healthy neutrophils [white blood cells].
“We then realised there was a cancer-selective mechanism involved, and we’ve spent the past couple of years trying to find the answer.”
The Dun team has run comparisons between THC-containing cannabis, and cannabis lacking THC but with elevated levels of CBD. They found that, for both leukaemia and paediatric brainstem glioma, the CBD-enriched variety was more effective at killing cancer cells than THC varieties.