British scientists are investigating whether a compound found in cannabis could be used to shrink brain tumours in children.
The study of the effects of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, was prompted by a growing number of parents giving it to children with a brain tumour after buying it online. The lead researcher, Prof Richard Grundy of Nottingham University’s children’s brain tumour centre, said in the last six months there had been a surge in parents administering it without medical advice in the belief it might help.
While no research has been done into how CBD can help children’s brain tumours, some work has been done looking at how cannabis-based molecules can help adult cancer patients. Products containing cannabidiol can be bought online, although recent changes mean companies now require a licence to sell them.
“New ways to treat childhood brain tumours are urgently needed to extend and improve the quality of life in malignant brain tumour patients, so we are excited at the prospect of testing the effect of cannabidiol on brain tumour cells,” said Grundy.
Brain tumours kill more children in the UK than any other type of cancer. Around 1,750 under-18s each year are diagnosed with cancer, of which about 400 are cancers of the brain and spinal cord.
The study, thought to be the first of its kind in the world, will seek to establish whether CBD reduces tumours. The researchers will grow cells from different brain tumours in lab conditions, some with the addition of cannabidiol molecules and others without. They will then compare how the presence of tumour cells differs in both samples through a technique called cell staining. This will help them see how many of the cells are dividing and whether any are dying.