According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses were expected to have been made in 2018. About 38 percent of adults will develop cancer during their lives.
Cancer research is some of the most highly funded disease investigation in the world. Scientists are continually finding new ways to treat different forms of cancer and manage symptoms.
The costs associated with cancer care are high, and they are expected to increase as the population ages. New cancer treatments may be revolutionary, but they’re often more expensive than their predecessors.
CBD oil has been studied as an alternative to traditional cancer medications. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence about CBD’s effectiveness as a cancer treatment. You might wonder if there is scientific proof behind these stories. Although the research has been limited because of the classification of marijuana as a schedule I drug, scientists continue to look at compounds in the cannabis plant for their potential in reducing the devastating effects of cancer.
A Brief Introduction to CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of more than 100 cannabinoids that can be isolated from the cannabis plant. It’s one of the most abundant compounds in the plant.
Some people are more familiar with tetrahydrocannabinol, the most plentiful cannabinoid in the marijuana plant. THC is responsible for producing the intoxicating high that many marijuana users experience. But not all cannabis plants are high in THC. Some are bred to have higher levels of CBD.
Why would someone want to use marijuana that doesn’t get them high? The other cannabinoids in the plant have therapeutic benefits.
THC has been studied for its potential to treat cancer. In this article, you’ll learn more about medical marijuana and its role in the treatment of the disease.
When someone uses marijuana, the compounds in the plant interact with that individual’s endocannabinoid system, which is composed of receptors throughout the nervous system. THC binds to different receptors than CBD does. Therefore, it produces distinct results.
The endocannabinoid system was discovered by researchers who were investigating the effects of marijuana on the brain. As they learned more about the way that the endocannabinoid system works, scientists realized that communication between neurons is not a one-way street.
They had once thought that signals are only sent through synapses in one direction. In 2001, researchers found that the endocannabinoid system operates via retrograde signaling. Instead of manufacturing neurotransmitters in a presynaptic neuron and sending them to postsynaptic neurons, endocannabinoids tell the postsynaptic neurons to produce the chemicals. The presynaptic neurons contain the targets for those neurotransmitters.
By acting in this manner, the endocannabinoid system allows the body to produce a communication feedback loop. This discovery led to the idea that the body can heal itself. It also revealed that introducing exogenous cannabinoids, which mimic the function of the endocannabinoids that are produced in the body, can remedy certain health problems.
The endocannabinoid system also works to balance the other systems in the body. It encourages homeostasis. When the body’s internal environment is unstable, diseases can develop.
Although the body produces its own endocannabinoids in an effort to restore equilibrium, sometimes it needs some help. That’s where CBD comes in.
CBD and other cannabinoids have been found to help with processes associated with the following:
• Energy levels
The signaling pathways that the endocannabinoid system uses are directly involved in cellular survival, growth and death. This has important implications for cancer cells.
Compounds derived from cannabis are currently used to manage cancer symptoms as well as health problems that are caused by cancer medications. But cannabinoids have also been shown to exhibit antitumor activity. Remarkable advances have been made in CBD and cancer research. We will address them in this guide.
Cannabinoids Are Commonly Used to Treat Cancer Symptoms
CBD is most often used in palliative cancer care. In other words, it is used by patients to ease the suffering that’s associated with cancer pain and medication side effects. Some pharmaceuticals have been approved to improve the quality of life of people with cancer. However, many people use unapproved sources of cannabis for self-treatment of uncomfortable symptoms.
CBD Can Relieve Cancer Pain
Because CBD has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, it has been found to reduce pain caused by chemotherapy drugs.
In 2011, experts reported that CBD reduced the tingling in the extremities that can result from chemotherapy. Sometimes, this type of nerve damage prevents cancer patients from continuing with their treatment. Paclitaxel, a medication that’s often used to treat advanced reproductive cancers, can produce neuropathy.
In the study, CBD permanently prevented nerve damage from occurring when it was administered before participants were dosed with paclitaxel. This study was conducted on mice, however. More studies need to be performed to determine whether CBD has similar effects on humans.
CBD Can Stimulate the Appetite
One of the primary side effects of cancer medication is nausea. If patients can’t eat, they lose a significant amount of weight while undergoing cancer treatment. Their health may suffer if they don’t get adequate nutrition.
CBD and other forms of cannabis are often used to boost the appetite. A few studies have looked at individuals who used medical marijuana for this purpose. General well-being improved in most of the patients who took marijuana to reduce cancer symptoms. In the majority of participants, nausea was reduced and they were able to eat more.
CBD Reduces Trauma
Patients who are put through the ringer of cancer care may experience psychological trauma. CBD oil can be used to minimize this distress.
When people go through intense or disturbing ordeals, they develop a memory of the experience. As their brains continue to reconsolidate those memories, the disturbing associations are usually extinguished. However, this doesn’t happen for all people.
CBD has been found to help disassociate upsetting triggers from certain memories. Taking it shortly before or after a disturbing event may prevent the brain from processing and storing that memory as traumatic. Therefore, it may be useful for patients who get anxious about chemotherapy or become nervous when entering a hospital.
What Other Cannabinoids Are Used by Cancer Patients?
Cannabinoids are so effective in reducing certain health complaints that they’re included in the following medications.
This drug’s active ingredient is dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1985 to treat the vomiting and nausea that can befall individuals that have AIDS or are undergoing chemotherapy. Some people also use it to treat pain, migraines, sleep apnea and muscle spasms that occur with other medical conditions.
Marinol can stimulate the appetite, reduce digestive distress, improve mood and encourage weight gain. It is usually prescribed to cancer patients if other anti-nausea medications don’t work. As a schedule III drug, Marinol is usually covered by health insurance. If it’s not, CBD oil might be more cost-effective.
Unlike CBD, Marinol only contains one cannabinoid, which is synthetic THC. Many whole-plant CBD oils contain a variety of compounds from the cannabis plant, which work synergistically to produce better results than a single cannabinoid.
Moreover, CBD is derived from different strains of cannabis. If one strain doesn’t deliver results, patients can try a different one.
One of the reasons why some people don’t want to use Marinol is because it can make them feel high. The dosage may also be more difficult to control. The lowest available oral dosage of Marinol is 5 milligrams. However, you can administer CBD oil in smaller doses if necessary.
Nabilone is another synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cannabinoids. Like Marinol, nabilone is used to treat nausea and vomiting in patients who are going through chemotherapy. It interferes with the central nervous system communication that leads to digestive distress.
Nabilone is similar to THC, but it may be more potent. In studies, participants who took nabilone experienced more drowsiness than those who were given a placebo.
Nabilone produces more side effects than CBD. Signs of nabilone overdose include trouble breathing, hallucinations, severe anxiety and psychological changes. Researchers have found that low doses of nabilone can be fatal in dogs. That may be because canines appear to metabolize the drug differently than humans.
Sativex is a mouth spray that consists of equal amounts of THC and CBD. It also contains ethanol, propylene glycol and peppermint oil. This medication is different than nabilone and Marinol in that its cannabinoids are extracted from the cannabis plant.
Because Sativex contains low levels of THC, it is unlikely to make you feel high. However, if you want to avoid THC altogether, you might want to try using CBD oil that does not contain THC.
In one study, Sativex was given to patients with cancer pain that didn’t improve after they took opioids. Sativex worked better than THC alone.
How Cannabinoids Fight Cancer
THC and CBD are the primary cannabinoids that have been studied for their ability to combat cancer. These compounds work against cancer in a variety of ways.
CBD is Anti-Proliferative
CBD can prevent cancer cells from reproducing. The first study to reveal that cannabinoids might slow tumor growth was conducted in 1975. Interestingly, THC retarded tumor growth in a dose-dependent manner. CBD did not. After the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, though, researchers ramped up research on THC. When they discovered that CBD doesn’t have the same psychotropic effects as THC, however, many turned their attention to that cannabinoid.
Many studies contradict the evidence presented in the 1975 investigation. A 2013 review that was published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology references several of them.
CBD is Anti-Angiogenic
Tumors need plenty of oxygen and other nutrients to survive. After malignant growths develop, new blood vessels and capillaries form to support their progression. This process is called angiogenesis.
Some experts believe that tumors can’t grow past a certain point or metastasize without angiogenesis. Starving the tumor by inhibiting its blood supply is one way to treat cancer. Cannabinoids have been shown to reduce the development of new blood vessels surrounding tumors.
CBD hasn’t been investigated for this purpose until recently. A 2018 study that was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that that CBD impedes angiogenesis by different mechanisms. This supports the premise that CBD may be effective in combating cancer.
CBD is Anti-Metastatic
When cancer spreads to a different part of the body than where it originated, it is said to have metastasized. Metastasis occurs when malignant cells break off of the primary tumor and make their way to the lymphatic system or bloodstream. These systems allow the cancer cells to travel to new locations.
As they inhabit different areas of the body, the malignant cells generate new tumors. All types of cancer can metastasize. Some cancers are more prone to spreading to certain parts of the body. For example, lung cancer may metastasize to the brain, liver, bones and adrenal glands, while colon cancer usually spreads to the lungs or liver.
Cannabinoids prevent cells from proliferating and spreading. They diminish the development of distant tumors. Most of the research into cannabinoids’ ability to inhibit metastasis have focused on cannabinoids other than CBD, such as THC and anandamide. A 2005 study found that CBD inhibited the migration of glioma cells. It also enhances the anti-tumor effects of THC.
In 2011, researchers looked at CBD’s effects on metastatic breast cancer. They found that CBD not only shrunk the tumors but also reduced the number of metastases.
CBD is Apoptotic
Whereas healthy cells will experience apoptosis, or programmed cell death, if they become dysfunctional or are exposed to toxic agents, cancer cells are particularly hardy. They can thrive even in the most pathological conditions. Encouraging apoptosis is one target for cancer treatment.
Researchers have demonstrated that CBD can promote apoptosis. In a 2011 study, CBD was found to encourage apoptosis in breast cancer cells.
CBD May Enhance the Effectiveness of Traditional Anti-Cancer Medications
Some types of cancer, such as glioblastoma, are resistant to standard chemotherapy. The activation of the TRPV2 receptor has been shown to deter the metastasis of glioblastoma and improve the cancer cells’ response to certain medications. Because CBD induces activation of the TRPV2 receptor, it increases the body’s absorption of some cancer drugs and encourages glioma cell death.
CBD Works Differently on Various Types of Cancer
Cancer is a complex disease that has a variety of causes and treatments. The effectiveness of a particular form of therapy depends on the type of cancer, the individual’s health and other factors, such as genetics.
CBD has been studied for its effects on the following types of cancer:
The studies on CBD and cancer are promising. So are many of the personal stories that many CBD users have shared with the media.
Rhonda Gossett was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, which spread to her brain and bones. Gossett didn’t think that she would survive longer than a year. When her cancer returned after two brain surgeries, she was discouraged. She was told that doctors didn’t have any other options for her.
Gossett began using a high-THC oil, which she believed killed her cancer. Then, she switched to CBD oil to stay in remission and promote healing.
In 2017, The Guardian reported that a growing number of parents were administering marijuana to children with brain tumors. A professor at Nottingham University began to study it after realizing that people were already using it without medical supervision.
The researchers explained that children’s cells are more flexible than those of adults. CBD has been studied for adult brain cancer, but research on CBD and this type of cancer in children is minimal.
The parents of William Frost support this study. When they were told that nothing could help their young son’s brain tumor, they put him on a ketogenic diet and began giving him CBD oil. The boy’s condition is now stable.
Gary Hill, a U.K. resident, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. He says that CBD oil shrank his tumor by 50 percent. He took a few drops of CBD sublingually three times a day for less than a month. Hill avoided traditional cancer treatment. His cancer was in remission as of June 2018.
Some other stories don’t have such happy endings. After 16-year-old Braden Stevenson was diagnosed with bone cancer, he underwent an amputation and initiated chemotherapy. After learning that the cancer had spread to the boy’s lungs, doctors gave him a grim prognosis.
The boy began using high doses of CBD combined with THC and THCa, another cannabinoid. Stevenson’s tumors decreased in size and number. It appeared as though his cancer was improving. Unfortunately, however, Stevenson passed away in November 2018.
Many people are hopeful that CBD is an effective treatment that’s less toxic than many other cancer medications. Studies and personal experiences have demonstrated that CBD can improve symptoms of the disease and kill malignant cells. However, like all treatments, it doesn’t work the same for everyone or all types of cancer.
How to Use CBD for Cancer
Working with a physician that is knowledgeable about CBD and willing to try this form of treatment may give you the best results. Everyone responds to CBD and other cancer medications differently. You shouldn’t stop taking your current medication or introduce new forms of treatment without consulting with your doctor.
Standard cancer-fighting strategies usually involve using a combination of drugs. Doctors aim to target tumor growth and proliferation at different stages. Cannabinoids have been found to enhance the effects of some anticancer agents. For example, gemcitabine, the standard agent that’s used to treat pancreatic cancer, works with cannabinoids to inhibit cancer cells’ ability to survive.
Smoking cannabis is probably the least effective way to use CBD therapeutically. CBD oil is more concentrated than the buds of the cannabis plant. Plus, when you purchase CBD oil from a reputable supplier, you know exactly what you’re getting. The label should list the cannabinoids that are included in the product.
Most experts suggest that you start low and go slow. Introduce CBD into your system slowly. Starting with 5 or 10 milligrams per day is a common recommendation. You can gradually adjust your dosage as you begin to notice the effects.
Adding CBD to a cancer therapy protocol may enhance the quality of life for people with the disease. In the best cases, it may cure cancer. At minimum, it may help them live without some of the pain and distress that cancer can cause.