Cannabis Kills Pancreatic Cancer Cells in the Lab

Christine Colbert June 7, 2018 4 comments

How does cannabis fare in the fight with stage 4 pancreatic cancer?

Cannabinoids are now being studied closely for their potential impact in the battle against multiple forms of cancer, including stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As research has progressed, cannabis has shown enormous potential in easing the side effects of chemotherapy cancer treatments. Some studies also lead researchers to hypothesize that cannabis treatments could even affect the progress of the disease.

Thanks to new understanding of the endocannabinoid system, scientists are discovering how receptors in this system interact with cannabinoids. The results suggest activating of these receptors can result in cancer cell death and slowed tumor growth. Cannabis can also help manage cancer-related pain, and ease nausea.

Cannabinoids and Cancer Treatment

Research has shown that cannabis can also help with side effects resulting from cancer-related treatments – like chemotherapy. A study published in the British Medical Journal (2001) found that patients preferred cannabis for relieving nausea and vomiting. They also found it to be more effective than other antiemetic pharmaceutical medications. [1]Tramèr, M R, et al. “Cannabinoids for Control of Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and Vomiting: Quantitative Systematic Review.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), BMJ, 7 July 2001, … Continue reading

Cannabis has also shown usefulness in treating cancer-related pain, including when administered along with prescribed opioids. A 2018 study published in Current Oncology shows that forty-three percent of patients surveyed consumed cannabis as part of their treatment. And nearly half of that population turned to cannabis to help with pain from cancer. [2]Martell, K, et al. “Rates of Cannabis Use in Patients with Cancer.” Current Oncology (Toronto, Ont.), Multimed Inc., June 2018,

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Micrograph of pancreatic cancer cells

Cannabis And Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer

A recent review published in the Journal of Pancreatic Cancer (2019) outlined the ways in which cannabinoids could potentially be employed to fight pancreatic cancer at the cellular level. Researchers found that in vitro studies consistently showed cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) could have antiproliferative and proapoptic effects. [3]Sharafi, Golnaz, et al. “Potential Use of Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer.” Journal of Pancreatic Cancer, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Publishers, 25 Jan. 2019, … Continue reading

What does that mean? It suggests that cannabis could help promote cancer cell death, preventing further proliferation, and thereby inhibiting the growth of tumors. However, studies have also shown that these kinds of results are not the same for all types of cancer.

But this is good news for patients suffering from one of the deadliest cancers — pancreatic cancer. The (early) research so far shows that cannabis could potentially help slow the progression of this devastating disease.

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Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer, and about 47,000 Americans are expected to die from it this year. An estimated 57,000 will be diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer has a starkly low survival rate, making discoveries toward effective treatment all the more necessary.

The pancreas is part of the digestive and endocrine systems, and this important gland manufactures and secretes insulin. It plays an integral role in the human body’s regulation of sleep, appetite, metabolism, and growth. When cancer forms in the pancreas, abnormal cells grow until they form a tumor. This tumor deprives healthy cells from functioning normally and prevents the pancreas from operating as it should

Potential For Cannabis in Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

A study published in the International Journal of Cancer (2008) illustrated how activation of cannabinoid receptors could induce the death of pancreatic cancer cells. By activating the endocannabinoid system’s CB2 receptor, cannabis can trigger cancer cell apoptosis — in effect stimulating abnormal cells to die. This prevents further proliferation of cancer cells throughout the body, and helps limit the growth of tumors. The authors also found evidence in their data to support cannabinoids as treatment for pancreatic cancer pain. [4]Michalski, Christoph W, et al. “Cannabinoids in Pancreatic Cancer: Correlation with Survival and Pain.” International Journal of Cancer, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Feb. 2008, … Continue reading

Another study published in the American Association for Cancer Research (2006) treated a large pancreatic tumor with THC. Researchers observed that the cannabinoid induced cancer cell apoptosis and inhibited the spread of pancreatic cancer cells. [5]Carracedo, Arkaitz, et al. “Cannabinoids Induce Apoptosis of Pancreatic Tumor Cells via Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress–Related Genes.” Cancer Research, American Association for Cancer Research, 1 … Continue reading

But THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that may be effective in fighting pancreatic cancer. A study published in Oncogene (2018) discovered that inhibiting a G protein-coupled receptor called GPR55 can reduce pancreatic cancer cell growth in vivo. By using CBD to inhibit this receptor in mice, scientists were able to significantly prolong their survival. And when combining CBD with the chemotherapy pharmaceutical gemcitabine, the mice survived three times longer than with gemcitabine alone. [6]Ferro, R., et al. “GPR55 Signalling Promotes Proliferation of Pancreatic Cancer Cells and Tumour Growth in Mice, and Its Inhibition Increases Effects of Gemcitabine.” Nature News, Nature … Continue reading

Flavonoids and Cancer

Studies have also shown that cannabis can be effective in fighting pancreatic cancer, and not just through cannabinoids. A 2019 study in Frontiers in Oncology found that a certain flavonoid derivative from the cannabis plant could enhance pancreatic cancer radiotherapy in vitro and in vivo. This synthetic, non-toxic flavonoid is called FBL-03G. It significantly enhanced cancer cell death in combination with radiation. [7]Moreau, Michele, et al. “Flavonoid Derivative of Cannabis Demonstrates Therapeutic Potential in Preclinical Models of Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer.” Frontiers in Oncology, Frontiers Media S.A., … Continue reading

Ultrasound Image Showing Pancreatic Cancer

What This Means for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

These potential anti-cancer discoveries offer exciting news for patients suffering from this hard-to-treat disease. With a survival rate of about five years among an extremely low eight percent, any treatment that can make a dent is an impactful one. We’re now seeing through numerous studies that cannabis may offer patients the potential to live a longer life after diagnosis.

While these studies are all preliminary, they pave the way for further research into cannabis as a potential anti-cancer therapy. The next step is duplicating these findings in human studies – as soon as possible. This is because with pancreatic cancer, patients don’t have time to wait.



  1. Edward Chittenden

    So do you smoke it or eat it?