1970s Study On THC and Lung Cancer That Disappeared

Branna Z. March 15, 2019 26 comments

In 1975, a government-funded study supported cannabis for cancer research.

This article is an opinion piece based on the facts surrounding the Virginia Study that produced results to support further research into cannabis for cancer. Instead, it went nowhere.

It seems the lesson taken from the Virginia Study wasn’t how to help suffering Americans; it was how to better subvert the truth. It began when President Richard Nixon wanted scientific evidence to bolster his anti-cannabis position. Nixon’s electoral strategy was to excite a “silent majority” of white voters by painting anti-war progressives and black people as dangerous and out to get them. Vilifying cannabis, a drug long associated with hippies and jazz musicians, was a great way to do that. To do so, he authorized a study that was meant to prove that cannabis was unhealthy: an examination of THC and lung cancer.  After all, smokable cannabis can’t be good for the lungs, right?

In a 1994 interview with Harper’s, former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman explained the administration’s position. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

After Nixon rode a wave of rightwing paranoia to victory, he wanted to cement the evil status of cannabis in voters’ minds to bolster his re-election chances.

The resulting science would be the final nail in cannabis’s coffin. Not only could help stoke fear in voters, it could be used to grant Nixon a larger budget for the War on Drugs, which had just unveiled.

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=25]

Shocked and Awed: Science Confirms Cannabis Claims

The research Nixon ordered was published in 1975 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, but was begun much earlier. The results showed tumors shrinking (in the rodent model) following THC application. The researchers quietly released these results in a small run of journal issues.

Nixon resigned his office just before the study was published, but might have known of its results, thanks to the lag between results and publication in academic articles. He was one of the few Americans who did.

The research should have been big news. The Washington Post ran a story about the study in the mid-70s and mentioned it again a few years, but a scientific breakthrough of that caliber — one that may have completely challenged the public’s perception of a substance — didn’t get the press it deserved.

It also didn’t get its due in academic journals. Usually, peer-reviewed research that purports to turn scientific understandings 180 degrees leads to a flurry of follow-ups as hundreds of scientists line up to further the new understanding or disprove it once and for all.

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=26]

But none of that happened. The National Institutes of Health, which authorized the first study, didn’t call for further research.

The groundbreaking research went away as quietly as it appeared, like a puff of smoke in the wind.

microscopic view of lung cancer cells

THC and Lung Cancer: What the Research Showed

The purported aim of the study was to determine what effects THC would produce on Lewis lung carcinoma, which is a kind of spontaneously occurring tumor. The scientists used that specific cancer because it’s easy to create and place into rodents. Further, results from its treatments are easily replicable in other kinds of lung cancer.

To demonstrate the effects, the scientists ran two tests. First, they tested the relationship between THC and lung cancer cells in petri dishes. The next test had the same treatments, in tumor-ridden mice. The goal was to see if cannabis acted differently in live creatures than it did in a sterile setting.

The results were nothing short of surprising. The first line of testing showed that THC and another cannabinoid called CBN shrunk the size and weight of lung tumors in the lab setting.

The second test, in which scientists gave mice oral doses of THC, found similar outcomes. Mice given the THC treatment had smaller Lewis lung cancer tumors than their peers in the control group.

Suddenly, science had a new tool to potentially attack lung cancer. So, why didn’t anything change?

Was This a Conspiracy?

Because the study led to so few follow-ups or news mentions, many people speculate that the government had a hand in suppressing the scientific evidence. They think the government deliberately hid the potential to use THC to treat lung cancer.

It would have embarrassed politicians, who had just made cannabis a schedule one substance in 1972, to suddenly change their minds and support its further research.

It also would go against the “Southern Strategy” Nixon rode to victory. This means Republicans would have to find a new way to elicit votes. By that time, the public perception of cannabis was low, and politicians wouldn’t get many votes for siding with it.

While all that is true, there is little evidence showing an active suppression attempts by then-President Gerald Ford. Nor is  there any implicating other high-ranking U.S. officials. (Conspiracy theorists would here point out that coverups of this nature don’t have trails of evidence anyway.)

xray showing lung cancer tumor

Lack of Cancer Research

What is certainly not a conspiracy are the follow-up actions.

The National Institutes of Health did not authorize many follow-ups to the original research, and cannabis research has been stymied by the government in various ways for a long time — that continues to this day.

It may be that no suppressing was necessary. The American public certainly didn’t have the appetite to fund more cannabis research. It could be that many scientists simply did not want to deal with the hassle. They would know the frustration and long wait times that researching a schedule one substance brings.

Or it could be that members of Nixon’s White House carried out his mission after he had gone. They clamped down on the research, threatened the press, and squashed calls for more funding.

All that matters now is where research goes from here.


  1. Kimberly Allen

    The government sucks We new this for years and it sucks that something all natural can an will cure so many diseases. Just make it legal. God but it here for a reason.

  2. My husband has a diseased musell around his heart a needs a transplant ,he’s taking tablets but doesn’t want a transplant ,could this help him at all and I am all for this mecdine to legal

    • Jennifer Grant

      Sorry to hear about your husband’s health problems. If the doctor recommends a transplant, I hope your husband considers this. Cannabis is not able to replace a transplant, unfortunately.

    • John marano

      Try a product called asea it works and is natural and native to your body it the company have won 5 Nobel peace Prizes in science for their discovery

    • Thom charles

      Yes ingesting cannabis oil repairs internal organs. Find Rick simpson and take his oil.(rso)

  3. David H

    It worked wonders on my dog, the vet said he had five weeks left maybe,. He was started on the drug and he lived for more than another year. And I aware of people who it has helped very much.

    • David H

      O by the way one dog I know very well had nearly got to the point where she could not walk, it took some time, but she walks now and even try’s to run, but not very well. And we have two other dogs on it now because of a skin irritation, and bladder problems, and me, I take also. I am great believer in it, as I have seen what it can do for me and mine.

      David H

    • My dog has prostate cancer after giving him cannabis paste he lived almost 5 more years..


    Hi you have access to the full article of not seeing it, only the Lewis lung cell story.
    I hope you find the below interesting and the explanations paradigm breaking.

    Dr. Robert Melamede
    Associate Professor and Biology Chairman UCCS (Retired),
    CEO and President Cannabis Science (Retired),
    Program Director Phoenix Tears, (Denver CO)
    Executive Director Masada (Kingston, Jamaica))
    Science Advisor, Spannabis (Columbia SA)
    Science Advisor Phoenix Tears (Thailand)

    719 641-1188
    16 Lake Forrest Drive
    Burlington VT 05401

    Monograph Physics of Life

    Animation Metabolic Plasticity

    Metabolism stem-cells&cancer

    Energy Flow Balancing Differentiation and Damage with Repair and Recycling

    Energy flow transforms metabolic dissipative structures into epigenetics and then genetics

    Multiple Metabolic States and Cancer

    Attractors in Life

    Evolution and the Endocannabinoid System

    The CB1 Receptor and the Evolution of Humanity, Past, Present and Future

    Cannabis Health Radio

    • Jennifer Grant

      Thank you Dr. Bob! Appreciate the links and will definitely look into all. I will email you a pdf of the original article.

  5. Becky Laws

    And yet I lost a friend of 53 years old to lung cancer – all he ever smoked was marijuana………

    • Jennifer Grant

      I’m sorry for your loss, Becky. 🙁 Smoking has the lowest bioavailability. Sublingual and suppositories are the best way to get cannabinoids. And, unfortunately, cannabis is not a miracle medicine. Nothing is. Wish your friend was still here.

    • Chtis reid

      Was is straight or mixed with tobacco and was it organic cannabis or grown with chemicals? And I want evidence if it was organic and straight.

      • Jennifer Grant

        There is no mention of tobacco in the study. You’d have to check with the researchers to find out the source for their cannabis. Or poke around the Internet to determine what the cannabis source was for NIH studies in the 70s.

    • Sorry for the loss of your friend. Smoke is smoke. I don’t know though. I can’t understand it. I know vaping and cannabis has a bad reputation. Follow your gut. I have really cut down, but it does help you cope during these trying times now. Maybe safer way of consuming is to eat it? I don’t know though. Grow it and then you can safely know what you are eating. Not sure who tells it like it is anymore. I know doctors are very much against it!!

  6. Russell Redden

    This study was published after nixon left office. A subsequent study was performed.
    It was reagan that made these studies classified, unclassified through the freedom of information act in 1990.

    • Jennifer Grant

      Yes, you are correct that it was published after Nixon left office: J Natl Cancer Inst. 1975 Sep;55(3):597-602. Completed 1974. A small story was run in the Washington Post on Aug 18, 1974 that reported the results: THC slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers, and virus-induced leukemia laboratory mice.” NIH ordered the study and approved by Nixon. I’m not sure what the connection is with Reagan. Nor am I confident it was ever classified. I don’t believe it was. I’ll have to fact check. Further research was not ordered and THAT is where the crime because it all just disappeared.

  7. Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids
    A. E. Munson L. S. Harris M. A. Friedman W. L. Dewey R. A. Carchman
    JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 55, Issue 3, 1 September 1975

    Cannabinoids kill cancer cells via apoptosis and antiangiogenesis. Know since 1974.
    Lewis lung adenocarcrnoma growth was retarded by the oral administration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), Δ8tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC), and cannabinol (CBN)
    This is from a study released via the FOIA in the US and was commissioned by the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics, predecessor to the DEA) conducted by the university of West Virginia to determine that cannabis supresses the immune system but instead they accidentally found these results due to the fact they use rats from cancer studies based on the assumption that Cannabis would accelerate the cancer due to immune suppression.

    They did not obtain the results they hoped for, so the study results were destroyed, and Cannabis was made a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value. The only reason this is known today is that the study was registered and published and subject to FOIA.


  8. People have died from “their” lies and still are (government & medical complex). I do not understand why this is not a crime. People also die from “their” chemo therapy” – Their number one therapy for cancer and it is statistically a human killer. The truth truly hurts those who are now dead, dying or incarcerated due to the constant lies to put profits before healthcare and make criminals out of the sick. Civilians have believed in and believed their medical doctors for their entire lives. They were not and are not worthy! They could have helped remove cannabis from the schedule anytime they wished. Simply put, the medical complex did not want to compete with a natural healer where they could take no profits. They knew that removing cannabinoids from the human diet for these past 80+ years would make humans sick easier and their need for medical assistance greater than it ever needed to be. Healthy humans are NOT profitable, their bottom line – And they are still lying today. The greatest CON ever pulled on the World (not just the American people). Shame on us for believing “them”.

  9. Jake Dove

    I lost both of my parents to cancer
    There should be some sort of class action that can still be taken – knowingly depriving a patient of a govt proven combatent of cancer is at least homicide – therefore under no statute of limitations

  10. Jacky Mansfield

    I have just been told I have a 1 cm tumour on my lungs ,,what would any one recommend ,,,the doctors have offered me radiation as I can’t be operated on as my lungs are in bad condition thank you