Story by NICO
Rumer Rose Maujean was only two years old when doctors found an 11 cm tumor in her adrenal glands. The Australian child was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma on December 24, 2014.
Neuroblastoma (NBL) is the most common form of extracranial tumor in children from infancy to five years of age. It accounts for 8% of all childhood cancers and in the late stages has a very poor prognosis. As with Rumer’s diagnosis, about 40% of neuroblastomas are categorized as high risk. The five year survival rate for children with high risk neuroblastoma is only 40 - 50%. On top of that an estimated 50–60% of children with high risk NBL will relapse and the prognosis for relapse is extremely poor. Approximately 650 new cases of neuroblastoma occur each year in the United States.
Conventional medical treatment for the tumor varies depending on severity, but can be very aggressive, and includes surgery, stem cell therapy, several bouts of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Rumer’s doctors decided to start her on 12 months of intense chemotherapy. In addition, Rumer’s father, Adam Koessler, looked into alternative cancer therapies and ways to ease the horrible side effects of the chemotherapy.
After performing a significant amount of research, he decided to administer medical grade cannabis oil to his daughter. When she took the cannabis oil, he said that Rumer was “alive again,” able to eat, gain weight, and play like a normal child. Despite the quick and miraculous effects, the Australian police arrested Adam on January 2, 2015, charging him with giving drugs to a minor under 16 years of age. The terms of his bail required that he have no contact with Rumer. In turn, Rumer was forced off of the cannabis oil which resulted in the immediate worsening of her condition.
After many months of legal battles, Adam’s charges were dropped, but cannabis was still not allowed as part of Rumer’s treatment. She continued with chemotherapy for over a year. Unfortunately, in March of 2016, the doctors found that despite the chemotherapy, her cancer had spread to her bone marrow. She was sent home because the cancer was not reacting to the treatment, and the doctors could do nothing else. Sadly, little Rumer recently passed away on May 9th, 2016, just before her fourth birthday.
What could have happened if Rumer was allowed to continue taking cannabis oil? While we’ll never know if cannabis could have saved Rumer, a recent study on the effect of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on neuroblastoma shows promising results for future sufferers.
The study was conducted by 12 cancer researchers and the results were published in March of this year. The researchers wanted to find out if the antitumor effects of CBD, which has been found with many adult cancers including lymphoma, lung, breast, skin and thyroid cancer, could also work for reduction of neuroblastoma tumor cells both in vitro and in vivo. The known antitumor effects of the the cannabinoid CBD are achieved through stopping the growth, apoptosis (cell death), autophagy (cell recycling), inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth), and inducing anti-metastatic effects (preventing the spread of cancer). Because CBD has none of the psychotropic effects of THC, and none of the harsh side effects of chemotherapy, the researchers proposed that, if effective, CBD could be a great treatment for childhood neuroblastoma.
The researchers did multiple tests including MTT tests, or colorimetric assays to observe the effect of both CBD and THC on the viability of neuroblastoma cells. They also did in vivo studies on mice where neuroblastoma cells were injected subcutaneously. The researchers waited until the neuroblastoma tumors reached 400mm³ and then randomly assigned the mice to either a control group or a treatment group. Each treatment group was injected with either 20 mg/kg of THC, CBD or a vehicle (ethanol) daily for two weeks, and the control group was not treated. After 14 days the tumors were analyzed. The researchers found that the tumor growth was significantly reduced in the mice treated with both THC and CBD, but the effect was more pronounced in the CBD group. The average volume of the tumors in the CBD-treated group was 2.31 cm³, while the THC-treated group average was 3.46 cm³. The untreated group of mice averaged a tumor size of 4.28 cm³.
For the in vitro tests, both CBD and THC had already reduced neuroblastoma cell viability by 50% at the 24 hour mark, and the trend improved after treatment for 48 hours. CBD was found to be significantly better at reducing the cell viability than THC. The researchers also found that a treatment of 10 micrograms per milliliter of CBD induced cell death of 63% of neuroblastoma cells within 24 hours.
The sum of the results show, without a doubt, that CBD has a large antitumor effect on neuroblastoma cells, resulting in apoptotic cell death. These findings could mean big things for neuroblastoma treatment, mainly because the role of cannabinoids for pediatric tumor treatment had not been thoroughly studied up to this point. As a result of this new research CBD may begin to make its way into treatment plans for children like Rumer.
The benefits of using CBD versus typical cancer therapies are numerous. Chemotherapy alone can result in a wide range of adverse side effects including nausea, throat sores, constipation, blood disorders, nerve damage, memory problems, and reproductive issues. Chemotherapy can also permanently damage the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and reproductive system of the young neuroblastoma patients. Comparatively, CBD has no known negative side effects. CBD would also be a better treatment for neuroblastoma than THC, which not only underperformed comparatively but also can cause psychotropic effects in the patient, whereas CBD causes none. Hopefully governments around the world will take this research seriously and allow for implementation of CBD into neuroblastoma treatment plans. Unfortunately for Rumer and her family, a legal cannabis treatment plan might have been the difference between life and death.