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A quarter-century ago, the government knew THC injections could help cure

The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning last February, when
researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain cancer
tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in

Most Americans don't know anything about the Madrid discovery. Virtually no
U.S. newspapers carried the story, which ran only once on the AP and UPI
news wires, on Feb. 29. The ominous part: This isn't the first time
scientists have discovered that THC shrinks tumors.

In 1974, researchers at the Medical College of Virginia had been funded by
the National Institutes of Health to find evidence that marijuana damages
the immune system. Instead, they found that THC slowed the growth of three
kinds of cancer in mice--lung and breast cancer and a virus-induced

The government quickly shut down the Virginia study and all further
cannabis/tumor research, according to Jack Herer, who reports on the events
in his book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. In 1976, President Gerald Ford
put an end to all public cannabis research and granted exclusive research
rights to major pharmaceutical companies, which set out--unsuccessfully--to
develop synthetic forms of THC that would deliver all the medical benefits
without the "high."

In 1983, the Reagan administration tried to persuade American universities
and researchers to destroy records of all cannabis research done between
1966 and 1976, including compendiums in libraries, Herer reports. "We know
that large amounts of information have since disappeared," he says.

The Madrid researchers reported in the March 2000 issue of Nature Medicine
that they injected the brains of 45 rats with cancer cells, producing tumors
whose presence they confirmed through magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. On
the 12th day they injected 15 of the rats with THC and 15 with Win-55,212-2,
a synthetic compound similar to THC.

"All the rats left untreated uniformly died 12-18 days after gloom (brain
cancer) cell inoculation," the researchers wrote. "... Cannabinoid
(THC)-treated rats survived significantly longer than control rats. THC
administration was ineffective in three rats, which died by days 16-18. Nine
of the THC-treated rats surpassed the time of death of untreated rats, and
survived up to 19-35 days. Moreover, the tumor was completely eradicated in
three of the treated rats." The rats treated with Win-55,212-2 showed
similar results.

The Spanish researchers, led by Dr. Manuel Guzman of Complu-tense
University, also irrigated healthy rats' brains with large doses of THC for
seven days, to test for harmful biochemical or neurological effects. They
found none.

"Careful MRI analysis of all those tumor-free rats showed no sign of damage
related to necrosis, edema, infection or trauma. ... In both tumor-free and
tumor-bearing rats, cannabinoid administration induced no substantial change
in behavioral parameters such as motor coordination or physical activity.

"Food and water intake as well as body weight gain were unaffected during
and after cannabinoid delivery. Likewise, the general hematological profiles
of cannabinoid-treated rats were normal," the article says.

Guzman's investigation is the only time since the 1974 Virginia study that
THC has been administered to live tumor-bearing animals. (The Spanish
researchers cite a 1998 study in which cannabinoids inhibited breast cancer
cell proliferation, but that was a "petri dish" experiment that didn't
involve live subjects.)

Guzman says he has heard of the Virginia study, but has never been able to
locate literature on it. Hence, the Nature Medicine article characterizes
the new study as the first on tumor-laden animals and doesn't cite the 1974
Virginia investigation.

"I have attempted many times to obtain the journal article on the original
investigation by these people, but it has proven impossible," Guzman says.

Guzman provided the title of the work--"Antineoplastic Activity of
Cannabinoids," an article in a 1975 Journal of the National Cancer
Institute--and this writer obtained a copy at a medical school library and
faxed it to Madrid.

The summary begins, "Lewis lung adenocarcinoma growth was retarded by the
oral administration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBN)"--two
types of cannabinoids, a family of active components in marijuana. "Mice
treated for 20 consecutive days with THC and CBN had reduced primary tumor

The 1975 journal article doesn't mention breast cancer tumors. But an
article in the Washington Post, dated Aug. 18, 1974--apparently the only
newspaper story ever to appear about the 1974 study--does mention THC's
effects on breast cancer. Under the headline "Cancer Curb is Studied," it
read in part: "The active chemical agent in marijuana curbs the growth of
three kinds of cancer in mice and may also suppress the immunity reaction
that causes rejection of organ transplants, a Medical College of Virginia
team has discovered." The researchers "found that THC slowed the growth of
lung cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory
mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent," the Post

Guzman was eloquent in his response after he was faxed the Washington Pos
clipping of a quarter century ago. In translation, he wrote:

"It's extremely interesting to me, the hope that the project seemed to
awaken at that moment, and the sad evolution of events during the years
following the discovery, until now we once again 'draw back the veil' over
the anti-tumoral power of THC, 25 years later. Unfortunately, the world
bumps along between such moments of hope and long periods of intellectual

News coverage of the Madrid discovery has been virtually nonexistent in this

The news broke quietly on Feb. 29 with a UPI story about the Nature Medicine
article. I stumbled on it through a link that appeared briefly on the Drudge
Report Web page. The New York Times, the Washington Pos and the Los Angeles
Times all ignored the story, even though its newsworthiness is indisputable:
A benign substance occurring in nature destroys deadly brain tumors. If
that's not page one, what is?

By Raymond Cushing
Published 11/30/00