A scientist in the United Kingdom has found that compounds derived from marijuana can kill cancerous cells found in people with leukemia, a form of cancer that is expected to cause an estimated 24,000 deaths in the United States this year.

"Cannabinoids have a complex action; it hits a number of important processes that cancers need to survive," study author Dr. Wai Liu, an oncologist at St. George's University of London, told The Huffington Post. "For that reason, it has really good potential over other drugs that only have one function. I am impressed by its activity profile, and feel it has a great future, especially if used with standard chemotherapies."

Liu's study was recently published in the journal Anticancer Research. It was supported by funding from GW Pharmaceuticals, which already makes a cannabis-derived drug used to treat spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.

The study looked at the effects of six different non-psychoactive cannabinoids -- compounds derived from marijuana that do not cause the "high" associated with its THC ingredient -- when applied alone, and in combination, to leukemia cells. Cannabinoids displayed a "diverse range of therapeutic qualities" that "target and switch off" pathways that allow cancers to grow, Liu told U.S. News & World Report.

Liu stressed to HuffPost that his research was built around the testing of the six purified cannabinoid forms -- not traditional cannabis oil, which Liu described as "crude" in comparison and generally containing 80-100 different cannabinoids. "We do not really know which are the ones that will be anticancer and those that may be harmful," Liu said.

During the study, Liu and his team grew leukemia cells in a lab and cultured them with increasing doses of the six pure cannabinoids, both individually and in combination with each other. His study says the six cannabinoids were CBD (Cannabidiol), CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid), CBG (Cannbigerol), CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid), CBGV (Cannabigevarin) and CBGVA (Cannabigevaric acid). Liu and his team then assessed the viability of the leukemia cells and determined whether or not the cannabinoids destroyed the cells or stopped them from growing.

Although promising, Liu also said that it remains unclear if the cannabinoid treatment would work on the 200-plus existing types of cancer.

"Cancer is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that fundamentally differ in their cellular makeup, [and] which occur as a result of disturbances to growth controls," Liu said. "Chemotherapy works by disrupting these dysfunctional growth signals. Therefore, any cancers that have these profiles should respond to the chemotherapy. It just so happens that a number of cannabinoids can target these very same mechanisms that make cancer what it is, and so any cancer that exhibits these faults should respond well to cannabinoids. The flip side is, of course, that other cancers may not have these same genetic faults and so cannabinoids may not work as well."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 7.6 million people die from various forms of cancer each year worldwide.

When asked if smoking marijuana has the same or similar effects as ingesting the pure cannabinoid compounds he studied, Liu said he thinks it's unlikely.

"Smoking cannabis introduces a number of potential problems," Liu said. "First, the complex makeup of cannabis that contains about 80 bioactive substances means that the desired anticancer effect may be lost because these compounds may interfere with each other. Second, we see that delivering the drug either by injection or by a tablet would ensure the most effective doses are given. Smoking would be variable, and indeed the heat of the burning may actually destroy the useful nature of the compounds."

In 2012, researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco found that CBD (cannbidiol), a non-toxic, non-psychoactive chemical compound found in the cannabis plant, could stop metastasis in many kinds of aggressive cancer.

The National Cancer Institute has also funded some research into cannabis and cancer, including a 2012 study that looked at the effects cannabis compounds have on slowing the progression of breast cancer, spokesman Michael Miller told U.S. News and World Report. However NCI has not funded research on the effects of cannabinoids on leukemia.

Liu stressed that much work is still needed, and said that finding support for marijuana-derived medicines can be polarizing.

"Although there is much promise, I struggle to find enough support to drive this work on," Liu said. "The mention of cannabinoids can polarize the public, who understandably link cannabis smoking with cannabis-derived drugs."

Liu told the Seattle PI's Pot Blog that he hopes to start clinical trials involving humans in 12 to 18 months.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It

    Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.

  • Because the U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.

  • Because the United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption

    Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  • Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy

    Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.

  • Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal

    In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.

  • Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws

    Though the subject of marijuana legalization regularly ranks among the most popular at the digital town halls President Obama takes part in, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/06/askobama-twitter-town-hall-ignores-flood-of-marijuana-legalization-questions/">declines to address the issue</a> or give it a <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/obama-addresses.html">thoughtful answer</a>. Incidentally, a younger Obama <a href="http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/229756/82/We-Need-To-Decriminalize-Our-Marijuana-Laws----Barack-Obama">supported marijuana decriminalization and a rethinking of the drug war</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba

    Almost 800 prisoners accused of terrorism have have been held at the <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/guantanamo-ten-years">U.S. military prison of Guantánamo</a>, Cuba, where they are detained indefinitely without facing trial. The United States has drawn international criticism from human rights defenders for subjecting the detainees there to torture and other cruel treatment. The Cuban government opposes hosting the U.S. naval base on its soil.

  • Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population

    The United States has <a href="http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx">the world's largest prison population</a> by far -- largely fed by the war on drugs -- at 500 per 100,000 people.

  • Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations

    Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.

  • Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks

    The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela

    When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.

  • Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia

    When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"

  • Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels

    The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People

    The rightwing military dictatorship that took over Argentina in 1976 "disappeared" some 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights organizations. They subjected countless others to sadistic forms of torture and stole dozens of babies from mothers they jailed and murdered. The military junta carried out the so-called "Dirty War" with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/index.htm">full knowledge and support of the Nixon administration</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Helped Topple The Democratically Elected Government Of Salvador Allende

    When it became clear that socialist Salvador Allende would likely win the presidency in Chile, U.S. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to "make the economy scream" in order to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm">according to the National Security Archive</a>. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973, torturing and disappearing thousands of his political rivals with the backing of the U.S. government.

  • Because the U.S. Backed A Military Coup In Brazil In 1964

    The Brazilian military overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964, with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB118/index.htm">enthusiastic support of President Lyndon Johnson</a>, ushering in two decades of repressive government.

  • Because The U.S. Funded A Terrorist Group In Nicaragua

    The Reagan administration funded the Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Regarded by many as terrorists, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1985-03-08/news/mn-32283_1_contras">the Contras murdered, tortured and raped civilians</a>. When human rights organizations reported on the crimes, the Reagan administration accused them of working on behalf of the Sandinistas.

  • Because The U.S. Helped Finance Atrocities In Colombia

    Through Plan Colombia, the U.S. has pumped over $6 billion into Colombia's military and intelligence service since 2002. The intelligence service has been disbanded for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/us-aid-implicated-in-abuses-of-power-in-colombia/2011/06/21/gIQABrZpSJ_story.html">spying on the Supreme Court and carrying out smear campaigns</a> against the justices, as well as journalists, members of Congress and human rights activists. The military faces numerous allegations of human rights abuse, including the practice of killing non-combatants from poor neighborhoods and dressing them up as guerrillas to inflate enemy casualty statistics.

  • Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World

    For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.

  • Because The U.S. Engineered A Coup Against The Democratically Elected Government Of Guatemala In 1954

    At the behest of United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

  • Because The U.S. Backed The Salvadoran Military As It Committed Atrocities In The 1980s

    El Salvador's military <a href="http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html">committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with U.S. funding</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years

    Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti">invade and occupy Haiti in 1915</a> after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994

    One invasion wasn't good enough. The U.S. <a href="http://wws.princeton.edu/research/cases/haiti.pdf">military returned in 1994</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Trained Military Leaders Who Committed Atrocities In Latin America

    The School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, trained soldiers and generals responsible for massacres and torture of tens of thousands of Latin Americans, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2012/09/201292081054585410.html">according to Al Jazeera</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo

    Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence

    The so-called "Spanish-American War" began in 1868 with the first of a series of three wars for Cuban independence. In 1898, the U.S. got involved, invading Cuba and occupying the island after forcing Spain to give it. The United States then forced Cuba to <a href="http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55">accept the odious Platt Amendent to its Constitution</a>, which allowed the United States to intervene in the country militarily and established the U.S. military base at Guantánamo.

  • Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico

    As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.