Can Cannabis and CBD Oil Fight Cancer? Science Thinks So
By: Deanna deBara
August 15, 2018
- Cannabis and CBD oil show major promise in fighting cancer.
- New research suggests CBD oil can prevent tumor growth and even kill cancer cells, without harming healthy cells.
- Cannabis and CBD also help treat other cancer symptoms like pain, nausea, anxiety and depression.
For decades, cancer patients have been smoking marijuana to help offset the side-effects of chemotherapy, like nausea and lack of appetite. But recently, scientific studies suggest that cannabis and its non psychoactive component CBD (used most often as CBD oil) actually have anti-cancer benefits — and could even prove useful as a cancer treatment.
Cannabis has been demonized for decades in the United States (remember “Reefer Madness?”) and is still federally classified as a Schedule I drug. But as states across the country approve cannabis for medical use (currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana), researchers are learning more about the potential for cannabis to successfully treat a host of health issues — and that includes cancer.
The research into cannabis and cancer treatment is fairly new, but researchers are finding that cannabis — and, in particular, the cannabinoid CBD — may actually be a viable treatment for people struggling with cancer.
But how, exactly, does cannabis fight cancer? What kind of relief can CBD oil offer cancer patients? And does CBD oil have the potential to be the “next big thing” in cancer treatment? Read on to learn about CBD oil and cancer.
Related: Your Complete Guide to CBD Oil
What is CBD?
When most people think about cannabis, they think about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for getting you “high. But THC is only a tiny piece of marijuana. The cannabis plant produces hundreds of other compounds — the most promising of which is cannabidiol (CBD).
From a medical perspective, CBD is the most promising cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids like CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is made up of two primary types of cell receptors: C1 and C2. These receptors are found throughout the body (from the brain to organ tissue to the nervous system) and regulate all sorts of systems in your body like sleep, mood, appetite, and immune function.
When you take CBD oil, it interacts with the cannabinoid receptors throughout your body — and that’s where the magic happens. The interactions between CBD and the receptors in the endocannabinoid system can create a number of positive effects in the body — and because CBD is non-psychoactive, it doesn’t product the same stoned feeling you’d get from THC.
There are a ton of ways you can introduce CBD into your system. There are CBD-rich cannabis flower strains, tinctures, edibles, oils, suppositories, topicals…basically, there’s something for everyone. You can also choose to consume CBD on its own or combine it with THC (CBD has been shown to temper some of the psychoactive effects of THC).
So, in a nutshell, CBD binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system — and, depending on the dosage and the receptor it interacts with, can cause a cascade of positive changes in a variety of systems throughout the body.
And some of those changes and systems? They can have a major impact on people struggling with cancer.
Related: Recipe: How to Make a CBD Tea Latte
CBD oil as a cancer treatment
So now that you know what CBD is and how it works, let’s talk about cannabis, CBD, and cancer treatment.
CBD stops tumor growth: Studies show that cannabinoids like CBD can inhibit tumor growth, kill cancer cells, and prevent the spread of cancer — all without harming non-cancerous cells in the body.
CBD makes chemo more effective: Research also shows that CBD can actually make chemotherapy more effective (according to a recent study, mice with pancreatic cancer who were treated with CBD and chemotherapy survived almost three times longer than mice who were treated with chemotherapy alone), and cannabis has been shown to be an effective treatment for multiple forms of cancer, including breast, liver, and leukemia.
Cannabis has the potential to be one of the most effective treatments for cancer on the market.
Because of the restrictions on cannabis, most of the research to date has been performed on mice or in laboratories. But as cannabis continues to be legalized for medical use, researchers hope to start rolling out large-scale clinical trials on humans — and eventually use cannabis as a basis for a new wave of cancer drugs.
CBD and cancer-related pain relief
If you’re a cancer patient, you obviously need treatments to fight your actual disease — but you also need treatments to fight the pain related to your disease. Currently, the most common pain treatment for cancer patients is opioid medications. But while opioids might be an effective pain treatment, they’re also extremely dangerous.
Opioids (like morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone) carry an extremely high risk of abuse and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Between 21% and 29% of patients taking opioids for chronic pain (like the pain associated with cancer) will misuse their pain medication — and up to 12% will develop an opioid use disorder.
Because opioids have such a high abuse potential, researchers have been exploring alternatives for treating severe pain — and cannabis has proven to be one of the most promising. A recent study found that 81% of participants reported cannabis was just as effective at treating pain as a combination of opioids and cannabis — and a whopping 97% were able to decrease the amount of opioid pain medication they took while using cannabis for pain relief.
Another study on patients with advanced cancer pain despite chronic opioid dosing found that when giving a THC:CBD extract, twice as many patients experienced a pain reduction of more than 30% compared with those who received a placebo.
There’s still more research that needs to be done before determining whether cannabis can effectively replace opioids as a treatment for cancer pain, but there’s no denying that cannabis can help cancer patients relieve their pain — and potentially lower their need for addictive pain medications in the process.
Cannabis as a treatment for cancer-related symptoms
So cannabis can potentially slower tumor growth, kill cancer cells, and provide cancer patients with safer, less-addictive pain relief than opioids. But that’s not all cannabis and CBD can do for cancer patients.
Cannabis and CBD can also help cancer patients deal with a host of cancer-related side effects, symptoms, and disorders, including:
Cancer is a scary experience, and many cancer patients struggle with anxiety as they battle the disease. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBD has been shown to lower both behavioral and physiological symptoms of anxiety in animals (smaller-scale human trials show similar results).
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 4 cancer patients also struggle with clinical depression, which can severely lower their quality of life. One study found that both THC and CBD produced antidepressant-like results in mice while a recent study from Washington State University found that participants reported a 50% reduction in depression symptoms when using high CBD/low THC cannabis.
Nausea can be one of the most challenging side effects of chemotherapy — and one of the most challenging to treat. Studies show that CBD and other cannabinoids can actually regulate nausea (and vomiting), making stomach issues much easier for cancer patients to manage.
Lack of appetite
Many cancer patients struggle with lack of appetite during treatment. According to a research study performed at Yale University, cannabis can help by “fooling the brain’s central feeding system” and activating a group of neurons (called proopiomelanocortin, or POMC, neurons) to stimulate appetite.
Cannabis, CBD and cancer: stay tuned
The initial research into the different ways cannabis and CBD can battle cancer is promising, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before cannabis can officially be integrated into the current cancer treatment system. As cannabis continues to gain legalization across the country, there’s no doubt more research will be done on the medicinal potential of this plant — and whether it has the potential to be the next miracle drug to sweep the world of cancer treatment.
Read Next: Is Marijuana Bulletproof?
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