Leading researcher offers latest findings on cannabis and cancer

cannabis and cancer

Prof. David (Dedi) Meiri, the leading scientist for drug discovery in cancer and cannabis research at Israel’s Technion Institute, believes that our body’s endocannabinoid system could revolutionize cancer treatment. He and his team developed cannabis-based medicines to fight immunosuppressive cancers such as melanoma or lung cancer, and for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer,  that will be available in Israel soon. To comprehend the potential of his research, we must first understand the complexities of the endocannabinoid system and how it works.

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The endocannabinoid system acts as the command center for regulating homeostasis by maintaining balance in the body. This system harbors over 100 different naturally occurring endocannabinoids that appear in every system and cell of our body and include a large network of receptors. The body has over 200 types of cells, from red blood cells to neurons, and each one possesses a unique combination of cannabinoid receptors that only respond to specific endocannabinoid combinations.

Remarkably, phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant can mimic the actions of the body’s endocannabinoids and similarly activate specific receptors to promote healing and combat disease. Prof. Meiri’s team is focused on identifying which combinations of cannabinoids can effectively target cancer cells. 

“Sometimes it’s a combination of cannabinoids, sometimes it’s one, but the action of the cannabinoids is very localized and specific,” Meiri explained.

dr. meiri cannabis and cancer researcher
Dr. David Meiri

The 50 or so researchers under Prof. Meiri’s leadership have the daunting task of identifying and documenting the endless combinations of cannabinoids to see which ones unlock which cell receptors. His team is recognized for being the first to develop the methodology to identify and analyze these compounds and match them with the receptors they activate.

The ‘entourage effect’ plays multiple roles in treatment  

The entourage effect, popularized by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam’s pioneering research in 1998, is widely recognized in cannabis science. He found that utilizing the whole plant provides a more beneficial outcome than isolated compounds because of their synergistic interaction. But according to Prof. Meiri, there is more to it than that.

The entourage effect also happens between the systems in our body- the immune, digestive, nervous, muscular, and reproductive systems—all of which can play pivotal roles in combatting diseases. With over 100 endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid-like molecules, 200+ cell types, and countless receptors, all interact to produce different effects in different systems of the body. 

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Because this can happen simultaneously throughout the body, Prof. Meiri points out, “It’s possible to treat a disease with cannabinoids from multiple directions. For example, Cannabis may target the immune and colon systems together for better treatment outcomes in IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).”

In addition, cannabis holds promise in managing more than just the debilitating side effects of cancer treatment, such as pain, anxiety, nausea, and insomnia. Since cannabinoids have demonstrated huge potential in inducing cancer cell death, a tailored cannabinoid therapy could significantly improve not only the quality of life for cancer patients but also the outcome of their treatment.

The endocannabinoid system is complicated, and so are diseases. It may take a complex system like this to crack the code of cancer and other diseases.

Charting the course for strain-specific precision medicine  

Leveraging a rich dataset from Israel’s medical cannabis program, Prof. Meiri’s team analyzes a wealth of outcome patient data detailing how they respond to specific cannabis strains for various health conditions. 

In the lab’s process, they also dissect the cannabis strain used by the patient to find which combination of cannabinoids is present in the plant, which works on which receptor, what happened in that cell, and what other active compounds were released. This is the first step in understanding the pathway of how strain-specific cannabinoids work and can be used to develop precision cannabis medicine

Cannabinoids provide hope for cancer treatment  

Cancer cells are like wolves in sheep’s clothing and can hide their true identity from the immune system, allowing them to form deadly cancerous tumors without detection or repercussions. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and surgery are all used to combat this life-threatening disease, but a cure is still not available.

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Prof. Meiri’s research offers hope. His team identified a specific cannabinoid that acts similarly to existing cancer drugs by blocking estrogen receptors, potentially inhibiting the growth of estrogen-fueled breast cancers. 

“This discovery leads us to explore other diseases these molecules can affect,” said Meiri. “The key lies in matching the right cannabinoid to the specific type of cancer, as the disease can manifest in diverse ways.”

Immunotherapy is one of the top cancer treatments used to bolster the immune system to attack cancer cells. Prof. Meiri’s lab conducted clinical trials with cancer patients to study the synergies between cannabis and immunotherapy treatment. 

Their findings revealed some cannabis strains showed no impact on immunotherapy, while others had adverse effects. Identifying and testing various strains that worked synergistically with immunotherapy took five years.

 “The key is knowing which strain and combination of molecules will help, not hurt treatment,” Meiri explained. “It’s a new age in medicine, and we are just starting to learn and understand how to fine-tune treatment.”

A promising future for cannabis-based medicine                                              

Prof. Meiri receives multiple calls from cancer patients’ friends and family desperately seeking alternative cancer treatment. Within weeks, his hard work will pay off when a formulation he developed to treat immunosuppressive cancers such as melanoma or lung cancer will be on the shelves in Israel with hopes for future FDA approval in the United States. He continues his work on finding cures for breast cancer and Leukemia and predicts other cannabis strain-specific formulations will be available within a few years.

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Enveric BioSciences is also convinced that cannabis medicine is a medical breakthrough and recently announced a licensing agreement with an undisclosed UK-based research hospital to advance pre-clinical and clinical trials for using cannabinoids in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs to treat cancer.

Prof.  Meiri’s groundbreaking research on the endocannabinoid system offers hope in the fight against cancer. By leveraging the entourage effect and strain-specific cannabinoid combinations, it holds immense potential for treating various cancers and managing debilitating side effects.

While challenges remain, Prof. Meiri’s dedication and the growing body of research suggest that cannabis medicine may soon become a powerful weapon in our fight against this devastating disease.

*This article was submitted by a guest contributor. The author is solely responsible for its contents.


Pam Chmiel is a contract marketer, publicist, podcast host, and a published writer specializing in the cannabis industry. She is based in Manhattan, NY.