CBD for cancer: Everything you need to know
Although it is too early to make any claims about CBD for cancer treatment, this compound may help manage symptoms that occur due to this disease or its treatment.
It is important to note that CBD is not the same as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is an active cannabinoid in cannabis that causes a "high" when a person smokes or ingests it. Researchers are also looking at the possibility of using CBD for treating anxiety and chronic pain.
While the initial results from small studies on cancer cells and CBD are promising, they are not conclusive.
In this article, learn about the effects of CBD on cancer and how it may help ease the side effects of cancer treatments.
CBD as a complementary therapy
The majority of the evidence available suggests that CBD and cannabis therapies may complement cancer treatment. CBD may help people with cancer by:
CBD oil may help relieve pain and stimulate appetite.
Many people who are going through cancer treatment experience nausea and loss of appetite.
These symptoms can make it difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight.
Ingested cannabis that delivers THC and other cannabinoids to the bloodstream may help stimulate the appetite, but there is no evidence that CBD alone can have this effect.
Both cancer and its treatment can lead to pain. Cancer often causes pain due to inflammation, pressure on internal organs, or nerve injury. When the pain is severe, it can even become resistant to opioids, which are powerful pain relievers.
CBD indirectly acts on the CB2 receptors, which may help with widespread pain relief by reducing inflammation.
THC acts on the CB1 receptors, which may be helpful for pain resulting from nerve damage.
Cannabis and cannabinoids such as CBD may also be helpful for people with cancer who experience regular nausea and vomiting, especially when this is due to chemotherapy.
However, the antinausea effect appears to come from THC in cannabis, rather than from CBD. People looking to try cannabis to reduce nausea should prepare themselves for the potential psychoactive effects of THC in prescribed cannabis products and discuss them with a doctor.
Many people find relief from low doses of THC. Prescription versions of synthetic THC that have fewer side effects are available.
CBD for cancer prevention
Some people wonder about using cannabis or CBD to prevent cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviewed numerous studies regarding the link between cannabis and cancer and found that the research has mixed results.
An older study of 64,855 men from the United States found that cannabis use did not increase the risk of tobacco-related cancers. However, this same study also found that male cannabis users who never smoked tobacco had an increased risk of prostate cancer.
On the other hand, the authors of a 2015 study found a promising relationship between cannabis and bladder cancer. After adjusting for several factors, they found that that cannabis users had a 45-percent lower risk of developing bladder cancer.
While research has shown that cannabis smoke still produces carcinogens, the link between inhaled marijuana and cancer remains inconclusive.
However, ingesting CBD extract does not expose the body to the same carcinogens as smoking marijuana. More long-term studies in humans are necessary to determine what role, if any, CBD has to play in the prevention of cancer.
Can CBD treat cancer?
There are currently no large clinical trials that are investigating the use of cannabis or cannabinoids as a cancer treatment. Small pilot studies exist, but the research is still in its early stages.
In 2016, researchers noted that the use of cannabinoids shows promise in the fight against cancer. The authors found that cannabinoids seem to inhibit the growth of many different types of tumor cell in both test tubes and animal models.
However, they also noted that some dosages or types of cannabinoid might suppress the immune system, allowing tumors to grow unchecked.
Much more research is necessary to discover the possible therapeutic uses of cannabinoids in cancer treatment.
Side effects of CBD
If a person stops taking CBD, they may experience insomnia.
The cannabinoid receptors in the brain do not act the same way as many other drug receptors.
For this reason, there may be a lower risk of side effects.
Unlike traditional medications for pain management, there are no apparent lethal doses of CBD. This is because the drug does not affect the central nervous system in the way that opiates do.
However, the cannabinoid receptors are widespread in the body, so CBD affects not only the brain, but also many other organs and tissues.
Small-scale studies have found that people generally tolerate CBD well, but some individuals may experience mild side effects.
CBD can also interact with a range of medications and cause liver damage. These medications include:
- anti-anxiety medications
- anti-seizure medications
- blood thinners
- chemotherapy drugs
- muscle relaxers
- sedatives, or sleep aids
It may be necessary to speak to a doctor about using CBD products, as they can also interact with some over-the-counter aids and supplements. People should exercise caution when taking CBD alongside prescription medications that warn about possible interactions with grapefruit.
Increased liver toxicity is a possible side effect of CBD. In one 2019 study in the journal Molecules, researchers administered varying doses of CBD to mice. The mice that received higher doses experienced liver damage within 1 day.
However, the manufacturers of Epidiolex also warn of its potential to cause liver problems in the product's safety information.
As the NCI note, CBD inhibits specific enzymes that may be important for cancer therapies. Cancer treatments that rely on these enzymes could be less effective if a person takes CBD.
While CBD does indeed appear to be a beneficial compound for many cancer symptoms, no scientific research suggests that CBD can be an effective cancer treatment.
Cannabinoids and cannabis itself may have their place as a complementary treatment in some cases, for example, for people who need help managing chronic pain and nausea.
People should always talk to a doctor before using CBD or any other compound during cancer treatment to ensure that it will not react with any of the medications that they are taking.
Is CBD Legal? Marijuana derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level but are legal under some state laws. Hemp derived CBD products (with less than 0.3% THC) are legal on the federal level but are still illegal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA approved and may be inaccurately labeled.