Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells – Molecular Biologist Cristina Sánchez PhD

Cristina Sánchez PhD

Cristina Sánchez is a molecular biologist from Complutense University in Madrid Spain.  She has been studying cannabis for fifteen years and has discovered that cannabis sends a message to cancer cells to commit suicide.

*Guess What? You could be listening to this interview on your commute. Get the FREE iPhone app or Android App*

Key Takeaways:

[1:39] – How long has Cristina been researching cannabinoids
[2:13] – Cristina explains how cancer cells die when exposed to THC
[3:10] – How chemotherapy is different in treating cancer
[4:51] – How long it takes cannabis to kill cancer
[5:53] – What’s the cannabinoid profile being exposed to the cancer cells
[9:19] – Would you advise a friend with cancer to take cannabis for treatment
[13:02] – Cristina shares her thoughts on CBD
[14:17] – Cristina talks about cancer cell death
[15:11] – Are pharmaceutical companies interested in Cristina’s research
[16:39] – How is cannabis treated by the government of Spain
[18:03] – Learn more about Cristina’s research

Disclaimer: The information provided about cannabis is for informational purposes only. Please consult your physician before making any medical decisions. The opinion of the guest are purely her own and do not reflect the opinion of CannaInsider or Matthew Kind.

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at Now here's your program.

Cristina Sanchez is a molecular biologist from Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. She has been studying cannabinoids for more than ten years. Her research includes findings that THC induces cancer cells to kill themselves while leaving healthy cells alive and undisturbed. Cristina, welcome to CannaInsider.

Cristina: Thank you very much Matt.

Matthew: Can you tell us where you are today in the world just so listeners get a sense of where you are and where you study?

Cristina: Well I’m a biologist, and I’m currently study the anti-tumor potential of cannabinoids of marijuana derive cannabinoids.

Matthew: Okay and you’re in Madrid right now?

Cristina: Yes I’m in Madrid. I’m based in Madrid, and I perform my work, my research at Complutense University as you very well said.

Matthew: Okay great. And so you’ve been doing this for a while now. Is it more than ten years or ten years is it?

Cristina: It’s been actually around 15 years already. We study, yeah we started with this study at the late 1990s, and we published our first paper regarding this issue in 1998. So we’re talking about more than 15 years already, yes.

Matthew: Wow, and so there’s a variety of ways that cancer cells can die, but you noticed a particular way that they die when they’re exposed to cannabis or THC. Can you tell us a little bit about that.

Cristina: Well yes as you said cells, not only cancer cells, but every cell in our body can die in different ways. One could be similar to an accident, a car accident, a traumatic death which is called necrosis. And there is another way to die which is a clean death and by clean I mean no inflammation of the surrounding tissues. And this cancer cell death is called Apoptosis. And when someone’s dealing with anti-tumor compounds, one wants this particular kind of death to happen because the other one is associated to inflammatory processes and things like that that you don’t want in a patient.

Matthew: Right, and so can you talk about how chemotherapy is different in treating cancer?

Cristina: Well it’s completely different because chemotherapy attacks every single cell in our body that is undergoing proliferation. Every cell that is dividing will be attacked by chemotherapy. And which cells are dividing in our body? First cancer cells of course, those are the ones you want to kill, but also the cells of your immune system, the cells of your stomach and a lot of tissues. So that’s why chemotherapy is so toxic because it’s not only attacking cancer cells but other cells that are proliferating inside our bodies. And the difference with cannabinoids is that these compounds only attacked cancer cells. We don’t understand why yet in molecular terms. We don’t know what makes a cancer cell different in terms of the sensitivity to cannabinoids, but we know that this is a fact. Cannabinoids kills cancer cells and they do not affect the viability of non-cancer cells.

Matthew: Gosh this is incredible research you’re doing. This is so needed. So chemotherapy is like a bomb that just kills everything, and THC—from your research—sounds like a sniper that just kills the cancer cells which is exactly what we want, and it caused no inflammation or no kind of problems. It just kills the cancer cells and that’s it. Now how long does it typically take? How many treatments or exposures to THC before the cancer cells decide to kill themselves?

Cristina: It depends on the model of cancer we are using. When we treat cancer cells grown in plastic plates we add cannabinoids just once, and cancer cells die in one day, two days.

Matthew: Oh my gosh.

Cristina: But this is cancer cells culture in plastic plates not in an animal or not of course in a human body. When we use animal models of cancer, we treat the animals every 2 days for 15 days, 3 weeks, and we start to see effects basically from week one, but we have to treat the animals 3 times a week, 4 times a week. It’s not just one single injection.

Matthew: Wow this is incredible research. Now the, you say cannabinoids, but is it pure THC or what’s the cannabinoid profile you’re exposing to the cancer cells?

Cristina: Okay. We have used many different compounds, a few compounds. Cannabinoids is extracted from the plant. We have used many different tools, and our hands, cancer cells respond basically the same way to cannabinoids either if they are fewer compounds or if they come from the plant and they’re accompanied by other compounds.

Matthew: Right. I’m sure you’ve heard of the entourage effect in that the cannabis plant works best when the cannabinoid profile has some sort of complete structure with diverse cannabinoids in there. Do you think that doesn’t really matter so much, just any kind of cannabinoid or do you think one that’s from a full plant works best?

Cristina: We have tried them both pure and extracted from the plants, and we see slightly better effects when we use a botanical extract, isolations from the plant that are accompanied by other cannabinoids and terpenes where we have the entourage effect that you mentioned. But for cancer patients I think we should find the precise combination of cannabinoids that work best for each individual patient. We are testing now in the lab different cannabinoid combinations. We are combining THC with CBD in different proportions, and we think that for each individual patient a specific cannabinoid combination would work best. So our work is to find that combination for every patient.

Matthew: Okay. And now there’s a lot of different kinds of cancer. What do you think, is there certain kind of cancers that are most receptive to this cannabinoid treatment?

Cristina: I don’t have an answer for that question. We and not only our group but many others in the world are taking this anti-tumor potential of cannabinoids, and as far as I know basically every cancer model that has been tested is responsive to cannabinoids in one degree or another. In our hands I would say that those cancers that are characterized by more proliferation are the ones that are most sensitive to cannabinoids, but as I said I’m not aware of any single cancer type that has not responded to cannabinoids. So apparently cancer cells have something different from non-cancer cells that make them sensitive to cannabinoids.

Matthew: Now there’s a lot of people listening that may be suffering from cancer or they have a friend or family member that is suffering from cancer. And in certain states, the state I’m in and California and others, you can find cannabis oil and cannabis extracts. I know you can’t really advise patients over a show like we’re talking about here, but let’s say that you were talking to a friend or someone and said hey look just take as much cannabis oil as you can and that should help with your tumor, is that what you would advise?

Cristina: Well we don’t know if cannabinoids can help cancer patients in terms of the anti-tumor potential. We know and we are very sure of that that these compounds work very very well in the animal models we have used. Unfortunately there are no serious control studies performed so far in human patients. I hope these compounds can be used with them as well, but as far as I know and I’m pretty updated in this issue, there are no human studies that can allow me to say that. So what would I say to a friend or what would I say even to me if I am diagnosed with cancer tomorrow? What I would say is this is the pre-clinical information we have, and I would stress out the word pre-clinical meaning that there’s no information on human patients yet, but on the other hand these compounds are very safe. So basically you have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen to you is that the cannabinoids do nothing to your tumor, and you would probably feel better because the effects are exegetic and appetite stimulating effects and all these things that cannabinoids do.

But in terms of the anti-tumor response, no, we don’t know if they work in human patients. We hope they do, and we are working very hard to provide pre-clinical evidence to the doctors and the medical community to make them check these compounds in human patients, but we don’t have that answer yet. So again if it was me the one with cancer I would probably try the compounds. Knowing that they have not been tested in humans for this purpose, but also knowing that they are very safe. If you are not a teenager or if you don’t have psychiatric disorders, these compounds are very safe. So basically you have nothing to lose.

Matthew: Right so that’s a great point. We don’t have any evidence for human trials yet. But for people listening who are trying to get a sense like what would a minimum effective dose mean? So let’s say you have a tumor that’s the size of your thumb somewhere in your body, how much cannabis oil would even be enough before they say that’s enough, that’s the treatment. The amount you’re taking is enough. Like what would be the minimum effective dose in your mind? I know you’re not suggesting people do this.

Cristina: We have no idea.

Matthew: Okay so maybe just a lot.

Cristina: We have no idea. We have no idea because we don’t work with human patients. We just work with animals, and we cannot compare does between mice and humans. That’s basically impossible to do. What I would say is take as much as you can. And as much as you can means stop increasing the dose or stop taking cannabis as soon as you feel something that you don’t like. But as far as those side effects don’t appear, I mean take as much as you can because we don’t know the dose that is needed for this anti-tumor responses to accure, if they ever accure.

Matthew: Now let’s talk a little bit about CBD. We talked about THC, we talk about cannabinoids in general, but in your research what are your thoughts about CBD?

Cristina: Well we are big fans of CBD because we have used these compounds in the lab and at least in breast cancer which is the type of cancer I work in. CBD is as effective as THC in killing cancer cells. And it has the advantage of not producing side effects which in the eyes of the doctors at least is very good news. It is in fact good news because the lack psychoactivity allows you to use higher amounts of cannabinoids. So this is also good news. But as I said, in our hands in cancer cells grown in plastic plates, in our animal models of cancer, CBC is as effective as THC.

Matthew: Really, wow. And so you focus almost entirely on breast cancer, and from what you’re saying CBC is just as good. That’s incredible.

Cristina: Yes.

Matthew: So we don’t know how the CBD or cannabinoids or THC are killing the cancer cells, but we know they’re dying. Is that accurate?

Cristina: Not really. We have a lot of information about the molecular mechanism that produces cancer cell death. We know, actually that’s what we do now in the lab. We have been analyzing what is going on inside the cells, inside the cancer cell when it is exposed to cannabinoids, and we know that cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors in the membrane of the cancer cells, and we know the complexity of the molecular signal that is occurring inside the cells. We have a lot of information about that. So I wouldn’t say that we don’t know how cancer cell death is produced. I wouldn’t say so.

Matthew: Now is there pharmaceutical companies or the government or different parties coming to you and saying hey we want to create medications for this. Is that happening in Spain and Europe?

Cristina: Well it has happened in fact in the past. GW Pharmaceuticals.

Matthew: Sure, sure, yes.

Cristina: You know who these guys are. They were financing our research for many, many years, and they are now trying to perform clinical trials on the analyzing the effect of this compound in combination with chemotherapy that is given to glioblastoma patients, to brain tumor patients. So this is the only contact we have had with pharmaceutical companies, and we would like them to be faster in their movement toward the clinics because we think that we are wasting precious time and we deserve that, I mean, we have to dedicate our time to patients. So we are trying to force them to perform more clinical trials because we think that the clinical evidence we have so far is more than enough to move to the clinics.

Matthew: It’s incredible because there’s many doctors, I would say most doctors if you’re in the United States, have no understanding, zero understanding of how cannabis could be a legitimate medicine for cancer patients. So here in the United States cannabis is a Schedule I drug. We can’t even use it for medical research. How is cannabis treated by the government of Spain?

Cristina: Well it’s a funny situation because we are allowed to perform research with cannabinoids. There is no problem at all in doing research focused on cannabinoids, but medicinal cannabis is not in the agenda of our politicians at all. And in fact they are very against these global movement around the world pushing towards legalization of medicinal cannabis. So we have general elections pretty soon, and we hope that the new government will change a little bit because what is funny is that the basic research community focused on cannabinoids is huge in Spain. We have a Spanish cannabinoid research society with more than 200 members, and it is probably one of the biggest in Europe, and there are a lot of groups, not only ours, but a lot of groups doing very good for clinical research and a lot of them on medicinal uses of cannabinoids. But for reasons that I really don’t get medicinal cannabis is not a question even for our politicians.

Matthew: Well how can listeners learn more about your research you’re doing there?

Cristina: Well we publish our papers in the regular scientific journals. So in websites like PubMed which is an NIH resource, public resource. You can find our publications. We have a small and pretty humble website, our group, where you can also find our publications and the things we do. And that’s basically it.

Matthew: Can you give out your website for people that want to visit?

Cristina: Actually it’s a very complicated name. But if they find my name Cristina Sanchez with no “H” and Cristina in cannabinoids, they will find the website very easily.

Matthew: Very good. Well Cristina thank you so much for being on CannaInsider today and educating us. We appreciate it.

Cristina: Thank you very much for your invitation, thank you.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.