CBD in cancer: current research and uses of medical cannabis

On World Cancer Day we have prepared a post about the latest research on CBD and cancer. This post is informational and is not intended to prevent, diagnose or treat any disease. Consult your doctor before using cannabis or derivatives such as CBD. Cannactiva products are not medicines.

Introduction to cannabis research in cancer

The therapeutic uses of cannabis in cancer are sufficiently supported by quality scientific studies. Research with medical cannabis has focused for many years on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while CBD or cannabidiol has been of later interest. Even so, specific research on cannabidiol in tumor diseases is increasing.

In this blog post we will discuss basic and human research data on cannabidiol and cancer. We will also review studies on the possible applications of CBD, especially in the management of symptoms of this disease and in palliative care.

What is the relationship between cancer and cannabinoids?

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of the body’s cells. The human body is made up of dozens of different types of cells, which can malign and give rise to a tumor.

Endocannabinoid system and cancer

Tumor cells appear in all healthy people throughout life. But, under normal conditions, the immune system is capable of destroying them, just as it does viruses and bacteria. The endocannabinoid system is very important in this control of immune mechanisms on cancer cells.

Through cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoid system controls cancer cell processes such as apoptosis, autophagy, migration, growth and angiogenesis/lymphangiogenesis (1). This discovery has opened the door to new treatments.

Medical cannabis in the treatment of cancer

How useful is cannabis in the treatment of cancer?

Cannabis has proven to be an effective and safe treatment for many of the symptoms that accompany cancer and cancer treatment.

Some of its possible effects are: enhancing the pain-relieving effect of opioids, reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, improving sleep quality and reducing anxiety (2).

How is medical cannabis used?

Cannabis is not necessarily either the only or the best treatment for all cancer patients. But there is enough scientific evidence to consider the therapeutic use of vaporized marijuana and cannabis oil.

If you are thinking of using medical cannabis for the control of any cancer symptom, consult your medical specialist about this possibility in order to obtain advice adapted to your particular case.

So, can cannabis cure cancer?

No. According to his followers, “Rick Simpson’s oil” cures cancer, but the pharmaceutical industry pretends to hide this finding. This absurd theory is based on a YouTube video, on a par with the reptilian origin of Elizabeth II or the UFO bases in Antarctica.

In general, the best results in cancer treatment are achieved by combining different approaches: surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, diet therapy…

Cannabinoids are another potential tool in this regard. There are already human clinical trials using cannabis oil and chemotherapy in one type of brain tumor: glioblastoma multiforme (3).

Role of CBD in cancer treatment

What are the antitumor properties of CBD?

Cannabidiol has been shown to have anti-tumor properties, meaning it can help prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells. Studies have shown that CBD can kill certain types of cancer cells, particularly breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia (4). The mechanism by which this attack occurs is called apoptosis and is a kind of “programmed cell suicide”.

Another characteristic antitumor mechanism demonstrated in CBD is the inhibition of angiogenesis (5). That is, to prevent the formation of new blood vessels, which are necessary for the tumor to grow and spread. Cannabidiol also possesses specific anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties that are related to antitumor properties (6).

On which specific tumors has CBD shown effects?

Lung (7), breast (8, 9), prostate (10) and colon cancer (11) tumors seem to be specifically sensitive to the antitumor effect of CBD. The studies available so far have been carried out on receptors, animal models (8) and also in human cells (7).

CBD in palliative cancer care

What is palliative care in cancer?

Palliative care in cancer is treatment aimed at controlling the symptoms of the disease, such as pain relief, emotional support and improving the quality of life of patients with advanced cancer.

Use of cannabis in palliative care

Unfortunately, in cannabinoid research, patients are ahead of researchers. The use of cannabis, and more specifically CBD oil, is common among cancer patients being treated by palliative care teams.

Up to 20% of cancer patients use cannabis, according to the most recent study published in the USA (12). It explains that 70% of the patients considered that the consumption of CBD had contributed to improve their general condition and quality of life. Specifically, the group of patients using CBD reported that it helped them with pain management, appetite and insomnia. Most of them used it in oral sublingual administration, vaporized or in cream.

What is known about the use of CBD for palliative care?

There is an ongoing clinical trial comparing the efficacy of pharmaceutical grade CBD oil in alleviating symptoms in palliative care cancer patients (13).

Is CBD effective for cancer pain relief?

Cancer can cause pain due to a variety of factors, such as the cancer itself, cancer treatments and medication side effects.

The analgesic potential of cannabidiol is justified by its anti-inflammatory properties, its selective effect on neuropathic pain (pain caused by direct involvement of nerves, for example in metastases) and its interaction with the endocannabinoid system.

There are multiple studies that have studied the analgesic potential of CBD (in fibromyalgia (14), arthritis (15) or neuropathies (16). But no studies have specifically addressed the potential of CBD on pain in cancer patients.

There are data to affirm that, in this group, treatment with THC and CBD has better results than using THC alone: pain relief is greater and adverse effects are less important (17).

CBD for nausea and vomiting

Is CBD effective in cancer nausea and vomiting?

In cancer patients, nausea and vomiting is a frequent symptom that significantly affects their quality of life. These symptoms may appear as a consequence of the disease or, more frequently, as a side effect of some types of chemotherapy.

CBD is a therapeutic option to help reduce nausea and vomiting associated with cancer and chemotherapy. Studies have shown that CBD can reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

THC / CBD oil in sublingual form has proven to be a safe and effective treatment in these circumstances. There are not too many studies that have investigated the potential of cannabidiol in isolation for the control of vomiting and nausea. However, given its mechanism of action, it is reasonable to assume that CBD by itself has a significant effect on nausea and vomiting (18, 19).

In addition, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), the precursor of CBD (the acid form of CBD) that occurs naturally in the plant (without combustion), has demonstrated a very selective anti-nausea and vomiting potential (19). One way to obtain CBDA would be through low-temperature vaporization devices.

CBD and cancer drugs (chemotherapy)

Does CBD interact with drugs used in cancer?

Studies conducted so far indicate a possible potentiation of the effect of many drugs used in chemotherapy. There are also some combinations that may not be suitable, such as the combination of CBD + cisplatin and the concomitant use of CBD + carboplatin (20).

CBD dosage in cancer

What dose of cannabidiol would be appropriate in cancer?

Cannabidiol, as well as any other product derived from cannabis, should not be taken without specialized professional advice. We recommend that you consult with your physician about the suitability of medical cannabis, and the most appropriate options available.

By way of information, we can say that the scarce data from research in humans have used a daily dose of 100-600 mg of CBD orally or sublingually (12-13), in the treatment of symptoms associated with cancer.

How many drops of CBD oil for cancer?

While there is promising research on the potential benefits of CBD for cancer treatment, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand its efficacy and safety.

The importance of consulting with a healthcare professional before using cannabidiol products for cancer is again emphasized, as it may interact with other drugs and present side effects.

We remind you that this is an informative article that is not intended to prevent, diagnose or treat any disease. Consult your doctor before using CBD. Cannactiva products are not medicines. Its content can complement, but never replace, the diagnosis or treatment of any disease or symptom.

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  2. Sexton M, Garcia JM, Jatoi A, Clark CS, Wallace MS. The Management of Cancer Symptoms and Treatment-Induced Side Effects With Cannabis or Cannabinoids. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2021 Nov 28;2021(58):86-98. doi: 10.1093/jncimonographs/lgab011. PMID: 34850897; PMCID: PMC8848503.
  3. Twelves, C., Sabel, M., Checketts, D. et al. A phase 1b randomised, placebo-controlled trial of nabiximols cannabinoid oromucosal spray with temozolomide in patients with recurrent glioblastoma. Br J Cancer 124, 1379-1387 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41416-021-01259-3
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  7. Ramer R, Bublitz K, Freimuth N, Merkord J, Rohde H, Haustein M, Borchert P, Schmuhl E, Linnebacher M, Hinz B. Cannabidiol inhibits lung cancer cell invasion and metastasis via intercellular adhesion molecule-1. FASEB J. 2012 Apr;26(4):1535-48. doi: 10.1096/fj.11-198184. Epub 2011 Dec 23. PMID: 22198381.
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  11. Romano B, Borrelli F, Pagano E, Cascio MG, Pertwee RG, Izzo AA. Inhibition of colon carcinogenesis by a standardized Cannabis sativa extract with high content of cannabidiol. Phytomedicine. 2014 Apr 15;21(5):631-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2013.11.006. Epub 2013 Dec 25. PMID: 24373545.
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  15. Vela J, Dreyer L, Petersen KK, Arendt-Nielsen L, Duch KS, Kristensen S. Cannabidiol treatment in hand osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pain. 2022 Jun 1;163(6):1206-1214. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002466. Epub 2021 Aug 27. PMID: 34510141.
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Dr. Fernando Caudevilla
Family Physician | Expert in Drug Addictions. He works in different assistance, research and training projects related to drugs, including therapeutic cannabis.

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