Glioblastoma represents 15% of brain tumors and is the most aggressive type of cancer that begins in the brain. Current treatment regimes involve surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy, these however yield a poor survival rate. Typical patients are expected to survive twelve to fifteen months following treatment with only 3-5% of patients surviving longer than five years.

MRI image (“Sagittal View” – from the side) of a brain containing a Glioblastoma

Fortunately there has been a promising advancement in the research of new treatments. A UK based pharmaceutical company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has recently published new data suggesting that derivatives of cannabis could be used to increase the survival rate when treating patients suffering from glioblastoma.

A phase two clinical study was performed to determine if two cannabinoids found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), could be used to treat glioblastoma. The clinical study involved a sample of twenty-one patients being treated with both compounds compared to a placebo group (patients not receiving the compounds). Results seem to suggest that patients treated with THC and CBD had a 30% greater one year survival rate than patients treated without either compound. The median survival rate of the group treated with cannabinoids was also six months longer than those of the placebo group.

Susan Short, the lead researcher and Professor of Clinical Oncology, commented that the compounds given to the patients were “generally well tolerated”. She went on to say that the results were promising and could potentially lead to a synergistic treatment option of glioblastoma. The CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals also commented saying these results reinforces the “potential role of cannabinoids in the field of oncology” and will be the “catalyst for the acceleration of GW’s oncology research interests over the coming months”.

While these results certainly prove optimistic, this is only a phase two clinical trial with a small number of patients tested. Further research will definitely be needed to prove a definitive improvement in patient survival rates as well as to understand the mechanisms through which these compounds work. Like with all drugs, a phase three trial published in a peer reviewed journal will be the next step in determining if these novel therapeutic compounds have the potential to be used in the treatment of glioblastoma. Until then, the results should be taken as a promising new lead but not yet conclusive.

The usage of compounds derived from cannabis in treatment is of particular interest in research. These compounds appear to work through different mechanisms than current therapies and can affect a large number of systems within the body. They could therefore prove to be exceptionally useful and novel new medicines for the treatment of cancers and other conditions.

For further information on these results the original article can be found on the GW Pharmaceutical website: http://ir.gwpharm.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=1010672

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