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Cannabis, CBD oil and cancer

Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. It affects people differently. It can make you feel relaxed and chilled but it can also make you feel sick, affect your memory and make you feel lethargic. CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis.


  • Cannabis has been used for centuries recreationally and as a medicine.
  • It is illegal to possess or supply cannabis as it is a class B drug.
  • Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer.
  • There are anti sickness medicines that contain man-made substances of cannabis.

What are cannabis and cannabinoids?

Cannabis is a plant. It is known by many names including marijuana, weed, hemp, grass, pot, dope, ganja and hash.

The plant produces a resin that contains a number of substances or chemicals. These are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can have medicinal effects on the body.
The main cannabinoids are:

  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)

THC is a psychoactive substance that can create a ‘high’ feeling. It can affect how your brain works, changing your mood and how you feel.

CBD is a cannabinoid that may relieve pain, lower inflammation and decrease anxiety without the psychoactive ‘high’ effect of THC.

Different types of cannabis have differing amounts of these and other chemicals in them. This means they can have different effects on the body.

Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK. This means that it is illegal to have it, sell it or buy it.

CBD oil, cannabis oil and hemp oil

There are different types of oil made from parts of the cannabis plant. Some are sold legally in health food stores as a food supplement. Other types of oil are illegal.

CBD oil comes from the flowers of the cannabis plant and does not contain the psychoactive substance THC. It can be sold in the UK as a food supplement but not as a medicine. There is no evidence to support its use as a medicine.

Cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves and stalks of the cannabis plant. Cannabis oil often contains high levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC. Cannabis oil is illegal in the UK.

Hemp oil comes from the seeds of a type of cannabis plant that doesn’t contain the main psychoactive ingredient THC. Hemp seed oil is used for various purposes including as a protein supplement for food, a wood varnish and an ingredient in soaps.

Why people with cancer use it

Cannabis has been used medicinally and recreationally for hundreds of years.

There has been a lot of interest into whether cannabinoids might be useful as a cancer treatment. The scientific research done so far has been laboratory research, with mixed results, so we do not know if cannabinoids can treat cancer in people.

Results have shown that different cannabinoids can:

  • cause cell death
  • block cell growth
  • stop the development of blood vessels – needed for tumours to grow
  • reduce inflammation
  • reduce the ability of cancers to spread

Scientists also discovered that cannabinoids can:

  • sometimes encourage cancer cells to grow
  • cause damage to blood vessels

Cannabinoids have helped with sickness and pain in some people.

Medical cannabis

This means a cannabis based product used to relieve symptoms.

Some cannabis based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. The following medicines are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms.

Nabilone (Cesamet)

Nabilone is a drug developed from cannabis. It is licensed for treating severe sickness from chemotherapy that is not controlled by other anti sickness drugs. It is a capsule that you swallow whole.

Sativex (Nabiximols)

Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine. It is licensed in the UK for people with Multiple Sclerosis muscle spasticity that hasn’t improved with other treatments. Sativex is a liquid that you spray into your mouth.

Researchers are looking into Sativex as a treatment for cancer related symptoms.

How you have it

Cannabis products can be smoked, vaporized, ingested (eating or drinking), absorbed through the skin (in a patch) or as a cream or spray.

CBD oil comes as a liquid or in capsules.

Side effects

Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • blood pressure problems
  • drowsiness
  • mood changes
  • memory problems

Cannabis that contains high levels of THC can cause panic attacks, hallucinations and paranoia.

There are also many cannabis based products available online without a prescription. The quality of these products can vary. It is impossible to know what substances they might contain. They could potentially be harmful to your health and may be illegal.

Research into cannabinoids and cancer

We need more research to know if cannabis or the chemicals in it can treat cancer.

Clinical trials need to be done in large numbers where some patients have the drug and some don’t. Then you can compare how well the treatment works.

Many of the studies done so far have been small and in the laboratory. There have been a few studies involving people with cancer.

Cancer pain

There are trials looking at whether Sativex can help with cancer pain that has not responded to other painkillers.

The results of one trial showed that Sativex did not improve pain levels. You can read the results of the trial on our clinical trials website.

Cancer nausea and vomiting

A cannabis based medicine, Nabilone, is a treatment for nausea and vomiting.

A Cochrane review in 2015 looked at all the research available looking into cannabis based medicine as a treatment for nausea and sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer. It reported that many of the studies were too small or not well run to be able to say how well these medicines work. They say that they may be useful if all other medicines are not working.

Other research

A drug called dexanabinol which is a man made form of a chemical similar to that found in cannabis has been trialled in a phase 1 trial. This is an early trial that tries to work out whether or not the drug works in humans, what the correct dose is and what the side effects might be. The results are not available yet. You can read about the trial on our clinical trials database.

Word of caution

Cannabis is a class B drug and illegal in the UK.

There are internet scams where people offer to sell cannabis preparations to people with cancer. There is no knowing what the ingredients are in these products and they could harm your health.
Some of these scammers trick cancer patients into buying ‘cannabis oil’ which they then never receive.

You could talk with your cancer specialist about the possibility of joining a clinical trial. Trials can give access to new drugs in a safe and monitored environment.

More information

The science blog on our website has more information about cannabis and cancer.

Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis. Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer.

CBD oil

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CBD oil

My partner has developed bowel cancel and is starting treatment.we’re hoping it hasn’t spread anywhere else but we will know more after CBD oil a good idea to take and if so where and how to get quality oil over the oil been sold in all these pop up shops.thanks in advance.


1474 posts since

CBD oil

This is a very good question as I have been looking into cbd oil too. The internet is full of info but how do we know we are ordering from a reputable company? Holland and Barrett have shelves full of cbd oil, so once I have talked to my oncologist and know it’s save to go ahead I think this will be my first port of call. in the meantime I shall be watching this post.

Moderator Steph


4913 posts since

CBD oil

Welcome to Cancer Chat Murt although I’m sorry that your partner has developed bowel cancer.

I saw you were asking about CBD oil so I just wanted to quickly pop by and recommend you speak to your medical team about this as they’ll be in the best position tell you more about this produce. It may interfere with the treatment your partner is about to embark on as well as carry other side effects or risks so do make sure you discuss this with them first before trying anything.

I wish your partner all the best with their treatment.

Steph, Cancer Chat Moderator


101 posts since

CBD oil

Definitly check with your medical team before doing Anything, but I saw your post about the Holland And Barrett CBD oil and felt I had to comment. A few of us within our family had tried the Holland And Barrett one for chronic pain symptoms. We all thought we had gone crazy when after just one use, we went back to the bottle a month or so, and found it empty! It was only when we told eachother that we clocked the same thing seemed to have happened. I don’t know whether that’s something that happens will all oils, and I don’t know whether it evaporates or something (I have no idea) but we just felt angry we had spent so much money on it from a reputable company we use a lot, for us to not even get ant use out of!

So I just wanted to let you know hun. I hope everything goes well for you, and hope everything goes well for your partner Murt


1474 posts since

CBD oil

Hi, thanks for the heads up! Didn’t know it evaporated. don’t want to waste my money, it’s pretty dear. x


101 posts since

CBD oil

No problem at all, I just didn’t want you to waste your money. It is very expensive, especially if you’re having to buy it on a regular basis. So for it to just evaporate is a waste of money, it’s so bad I didn’t expect it from such a big store that I use often for other things which are usually of good quality.

I hope it works well for you if you do choose to use it if your medical team give you permission to, and I hope you find a good place to get it from.

Lots of love and hugs to you and Good Luck with everything you’re going through.


1474 posts since

CBD oil

Thank you for you lovely reply, this forum has been a god send to me xxx


101 posts since

CBD oil

No problem at all, and I’m so glad you’re finding the help and understanding you so very need with what you’re going through. Keep being a star, and keep shining bright xxxxx


CBD oil

i just felt the need to comment, the Holland and barratt oil is only for mild pain relief.

The proper oil has ‘THC’ the active ingredient’ in it. There’s a lot on the net about this oil but I’m afraid you’re not going to get the proper stuff in Holland and barratts but please don’t take my word for it do some research, as I’m doing myself research myself

Moderator Lucie


4299 posts since

CBD oil

On the subject of cannabis oil research, I thought I would share with you all this interesting article from our science blog.

Lucie, Cancer Chat Moderator


1474 posts since

CBD oil

Thank you for posting this, very informative. x


188 posts since

CBD oil

Hi. I just thought I’d offer what little bit of knowledge I have. I live in Canada and cannabis was just recently legalized. So up until October, there was a lot of confusion as to where and how to get CBD oil. First of all, in order for it to actually work (and not just be hemp oil, which is about as effective in treating pain as olive oil – but might offer other health benefits) it has to have a certain percentage of active ingredients in it which is also what made it illegal. There was no regulation, so all kinds of shops and online stores could sell CBD oil and it would really just be hemp oil, or something equally useless.

Based on what I have read, the best way to get it is through a doctor. I believe medical marijuana will be available in the U.K soon (if it isn’t already) but like how it was here in Canada (and still is if you want medical marijuana), you have to go through a lot of paperwork, doctors, prescriptions etc. to get it.

I wouldn’t trust anywhere selling CBD oil. Not online, not in stores – unless you have stores that you can only access with a medical marijuana licence (or whatever it’s called – through prescription).

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