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How Cannabis, Cancer, and the IDO Pathway Interact

How Cannabis, Cancer, and the IDO Pathway Interact

November 8, 2018
Researchers around the globe are finding new ways to treat cancer using cannabis cannabinoids like THC and CBD along with terpenes, but how does it work?

Researchers around the globe are finding new ways to treat cancer using cannabis and terpenes, but how does it work?

Cancer is a complex problem that encompasses a wide array of actual medical conditions. As such, treatments for one type of cancer may not work for another. Some treatments kill cancer directly (apoptosis), while others reduce its ability to metastasize or spread. However, one mode of action being investigated is to help the immune system fight the cancer itself with the help of terpenes and cannabinoids.

When the body senses a potential invader (fungi, bacteria, etc.) it begins to shut off the flow of protein and nutrients in the area to starve them. It does so by producing Indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase or IDO which breaks tryptophan down into kynurenine in that area of the body. T-Cells and other immune system cells, which normally kill invaders or cancer, can’t function without tryptophan. The body effectively creates a dead zone to isolate the invader, but when the invader is a tumor or cancer cell this simply allows the tumor to spread unchecked. Even worse, some tumors are believed to produce IDO which allows them to evade the immune system. IDO levels were correlated to the outcome of the patient’s case with certain cancers in that study as well.

Could terpenes and cannabinoids work together to reduce IDO activity, increase tryptophan and ultimately support the immune system's fight against cancer?

However, a 2009 study showed that both delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) strongly reduced IDO activity and increased tryptophan levels. A similar study on lavender, linalool, limonene and alpha-pinene showed those terpenes were also able to reduce IDO activity and increase tryptophan. The higher tryptophan levels allow T-Cells and the rest of the immune system to attack the tumor. These effects are responsible for reductions in tumor size in these experiments. These same terpenes found in lavender are also found in cannabis and when combined with CBD or THC help form the Entourage Effect, synergistically treating cancer and other conditions.

Again, this is just one way that cannabis and terpenes are being shown to be helpful in treating cancer. It’s an exciting time to live as science continues to unravel the mysteries of these plants.

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