By Salina May
Sufferers of ulcerative colitis are a step closer to an innovative way of reducing their risk of colon cancer
A new study from researchers at the University of South Carolina suggests that THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, may help prevent colitis-associated colon cancer.
Published in the journal iScience on Sept. 25, the research found THC can prevent the development of colitis-associated colon cancer in mice, although it is yet unknown how this may translate to humans.
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and rates of IBD and its related conditions have been rising over recent decades.
The organization Crohn’s and Colitis Canada reports that in 2018, approximately 270,000 Canadians were living with IBD, with 120,000 of them having ulcerative colitis. Those who suffer from colitis and other forms of IBD are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
IBD occurs when the immune system responds incorrectly to environmental cues and responds by causing gastrointestinal inflammation. Prolonged, erroneously triggered inflammation can destroy the gastrointestinal mucus barrier and ultimately lead to colorectal cancer.
THC interacts with a receptor called CB2 in humans, which is present on immune cells and within the gastrointestinal system. These receptors regulate the inflammatory immune response, and THC stops these receptors from triggering inflammation. Mice treated with THC did not produce cancerous tumours, unlike untreated control group mice which did.
“Thus, in those who are at higher risk of developing colon cancer, THC or other anti-inflammatory agents may be beneficial,” study author Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti said.
For long-term prevention of colon cancer in IBD sufferers, THC may not be the most desirable treatment due to its psychoactive characteristics. Study authors hope future research can examine non-psychoactive compounds that interact with the CB2 receptors for similar inflammatory benefits, with a number of these non-psychoactive compounds also being found in the cannabis plant.
The authors note the study has limitations: it only focuses on the prevention of inflammation from ulcerative colitis and resulting colon cancer, and does not provide any treatment or curative results for developed tumours.