Marijuana Reduces Cancer Growth, New Study Shows, In Case You Needed Another Reason to Smoke

Proponents of legalizing marijuana are often quick — too quick — to tout its alleged health benefits and curative abilities. My skeptic's alarm starts dinging wildly every time overblown memes circulate suggesting that the chemical components in marijuana, including its main psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can literally "cure cancer." But, perhaps a little humility is in order on my part: a new study has been published, and it provides evidence that THC fights tumors. Maybe pot cures cancer after all!

Researchers from two universities (Complutense University in Spain and the University of Anglia in the UK) teamed up to study THC and its effect on cancerous tumors. First, they gave mice tumors using human breast cancer cells. When treated with THC, the mice's tumors grew more slowly. Even better yet, the researchers also tried using THC to treat two human patients suffering from "highly aggressive" brain cancers. These tumors also slowed, apparently by a process called "autophagy" (eating themselves up) that was induced by the THC.

This study is important because it built on previous research, allowing the scientists to begin to understand why THC fights tumor growth — due to its actions on certain cannabinoid receptors. Hopefully in the future, cancer patients will be able to take drugs synthesized to have even stronger cancer-fighting properties than naturally-produced marijuana. In the meantime, medical marijuana could be the answer (although the researchers are quick to caution patients against self-medicating with marijuana).

America's "War on Drugs" has ruined enough lives as it is — let's not add any needless cancer deaths to its toll. As evidence mounts that marijuana's health purposes are genuine and not just stoners' wishful thinking, policy needs to change, and fast. When compared to the costs — what, increased late-night salty snack consumption? — the benefits of legalizing marijuana widely (not just for a few prescription holders) seem compelling. In the meantime, if you live in Berkeley, California, you could even qualify for free medical marijuana, which is actually not as crazy as it sounds.

Image: © Atomazul /