Southern Illinois University Examining the Use of Cannabis for Ovarian Cancer

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SIU researcher Dr. Dale “Buck” Buchanan, who is also a professor of physiology at the university, is a founding member of the Cannabis Science Center. “We started the Cannabis Science Center in … December 2018, when they took it off of the controlled substances lists and legalized use of industrial help nationwide,” said Buchanan in an interview with SIU’s college newspaper, The Daily Egyptian. “Since then there has been an amazing explosion.”

Buchanan explained that since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, he has been interested in cannabis’s ability to treat cancer. “The vast majority of ovarian cancer research is focused toward extending what we call ‘progression-free survival,’” he added. “So it seems misguided to me that the focus of the research is on this incremental increase in life … so we’re really interested in prevention.”

Although rodents are the easiest subject to study, Buchanan notes that there is a similarity between chickens and ovarian cancer. “But the chicken is kind of counterintuitive. It gets the same ovarian cancer that women get. Women give live birth and chickens lay eggs, but the ovaries are remarkably similar and the thing that makes them so similar is the number of lifetime ovulations.”

In his observations, he’s found that Omega-three acids have natural anti-inflammatory proteins that help heal scar tissue which develops during ovulation, ultimately reducing cancerous tissue growth. “The consequence of this is that it has a 70% reduction in the severity of cancer and a 30% reduction in the incidence, and all we did was introduce flax into their diet,” he said. “But we know nothing about how it works, so that’s our work.”

This finding has led researchers such as Graduate Student Didas Roy to explore how the body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically Receptor 1, works. “So in the endocannabinoid system, there are cannabinoids produced inside our bodies … and they’re binding to specific receptors, one and two,” said Roy. “So two is not that much expressed in the ovary, but receptor one is there in high abundance, and it seems like the expression of those receptors increases in cancer.”

More specifically, Roy’s current focus is on Transforming Growth Factor ß (TGF-ß) protein, which is present in the ovaries, as well as the endocannabinoid system. “We know TGF-ß is also implicated in cancer, so we are trying to see how the both of them are related to each other, who is controlling whom and how they’re contributing to the ovarian cancer,” Roy added. “TGF-ß is a family of many, many receptors and ligands, so I’m trying to look at all of them.”

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 19,880 women will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis in their lifetime [in 2022], and about 12,810 women will die from the condition. More waves of research are being conducted to further explore how cannabis can reduce suffering and even potentially save lives. In August 2019, one study examined the efficacy of CBD for treating low grade ovarian carcinoma. In September 2022, one study found that cannabis’s anti-cancer properties could help patients fight against ovarian cancer and chemotherapy resistance.

There is a growing resource of studies identifying cannabis as a beneficial treatment for many types of cancer as well. One study published in August 2022 shows how cannabis users are less likely to develop common liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which affects about 25,000 men and 11,000 women in the U.S. annually (and kills about 19,000 men and 9,000 women each year). Another study shows how cannabis can be beneficial to cancer patients by treating pain and reducing their reliance on opiates, which were responsible for more than 923,000 deaths in the U.S. as of 2020.

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