Studies that support marijuana’s medicinal properties are met with a great deal of skepticism due to cannabis’ hallucinogenic effects. Researchers from St. George’s University of London have isolated six non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids that could lead to the development of effective anti-cancer medication.

“This study is a critical step in unpicking the mysteries of cannabis as a source of medicine,” explained the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Wai Liu. “The cannabinoids examined have minimal, if any, hallucinogenic side effects, and their properties as anti-cancer agents are promising.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, cannabinoids are chemical properties found in cannabis that have been known to produce therapeutic effects by activating receptors in the central nervous system and immune system. While cannabis is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of cancer or any other medical condition, cannabinoids including dronabinol and nabilone have been approved for the treatment of cancer-related side effects.

Although various studies have been carried out regarding the positive and negative effects of cannabis’ main ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), little is known about other cannabinoids. Dr. Liu and his colleagues from St. George’s identified six cannabinoids commonly found in a cannabis plant, including two forms of cannabidiol (CBD), two forms of cannabigerol (CBG), and two forms of cannabigevarin (CBGV).

“These agents are able to interfere with the development of cancerous cells, stopping them in their tracks and preventing them from growing,” said Dr. Liu. “In some cases, by using specific dosage patterns, they can destroy cancer cells on their own.”

The research team introduced all six cannabinoids to cells carrying leukemia, either on their own or in combinations with others. Results showed anti-cancer properties, similar to THC, without any hallucinogenic side effects in all six cannabinoids. Liu said the next step in their analysis will be introducing these compounds to pre-existing cancer medications

“Used in combination with existing treatment, we could discover some highly effective strategies for tackling cancer,” Liu added. “Significantly, these compounds are inexpensive to produce and making better use of their unique properties could result in much more cost effective anti-cancer drugs in future.”

Source: Scott K, Shah S, Dalgleish A, Liu W. Enhancing the Activity of Cannabidiol and Other Cannabinoids In Vitro Through Modifications to Drug Combinations and Treatment Schedules. Anticancer Research. 2013.