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The active ingredient in marijuana appears to target cancerous brain cells for destruction while leaving healthy cells alone, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Complutense University in Madrid, and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Researchers first conducted an experiment in mice that had been engineered to carry three different grafts of human brain cancer. They injected the mice daily with the molecule tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) near the site of the tumors once each day. The chemical appeared to stimulate the cancerous cells to engage in a process known as autophagy, in which cells initiate their own breakdown.

"These results may help to design new cancer therapies based on the use of medicines containing the active principle of marijuana and/or in the activation of autophagy," researcher Guillermo Velasco said.

THC belongs to a class of chemicals known as cannabinoids, named after the cannabis (marijuana) plant in which they occur. It is the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana consumption.

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July 28, 2009