Researchers at the California Pacific Medical Centre Research Institute have identified a compound in cannabis that may help to arrest the spread of breast cancer cells.
Writing about their findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, the researchers revealed that the compound with potential anti-cancer effect is called CBD, and this is found in Cannabis sativa.
The researchers said that CBD could be the first non-toxic agent to show promise in treating metastatic form of breast cancer.
"Right now we have a limited range of options in treating aggressive forms of cancer," said Dr. Sean D. McAllister, a cancer researcher at CPMCRI and the lead author of the study.
"Those treatments, such as chemotherapy, can be effective but they can also be extremely toxic and difficult for patients. This compound offers the hope of a non-toxic therapy that could achieve the same results without any of the painful side effects," he added.
The researchers said that they had tested CBD to inhibit the activity of a gene called Id-1 away, which is believed to be responsible for the aggressive spread of cancer cells throughout the body.
"We know that Id-1 is a key regulator of the spread of breast cancer," said Dr. Pierre-Yves Desprez, a cancer researcher at CPMCRI and the senior author of the study.
"We also know that Id-1 has also been found at higher levels in other forms of cancer. So what is exciting about this study is that if CBD can inhibit Id-1 in breast cancer cells, then it may also prove effective at stopping the spread of cancer cells in other forms of the disease, such as colon and brain or prostate cancer," Dr. Desprez added.
Comparing it with another ingredient isolated from marijuana called THC, which is used in some medical treatments, the researchers said that CBD did not have any psychoactive properties.
They, however, clarified that their findings did not suggest that people with breast cancer should smoke marijuana.
The researchers warned that it was highly unlikely that effective concentrations of CBD could be reached by smoking cannabis.