Cbd oil and radiation
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is one of many chemicals found in the cannabis plant. It has been touted in some online forums as an alternative treatment, and even a cure, for many illnesses, including cancer. And, some people with cancer say that CBD has helped them as a complementary therapy in managing their symptoms and side effects from standard cancer treatment.
Yet there’s very little research around CBD and its use in treating people with cancer. Here’s what to know about what CBD is and what science currently shows about whether it’s safe and effective for people with cancer to use.
What is CBD?
CBD is 1 of the hundreds of chemicals found in the flowering cannabis plant. CBD does not have the psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects of another chemical found in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical that causes people to experience a “high.” CBD, on the other hand, is being used by some to help ease pain, anxiety, and sleep issues.
CBD comes from cannabis plants called hemp that are specifically grown with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. Cannabis plants grown with high levels of THC are usually called marijuana. CBD comes from oil that is extracted from the cannabis plant. That oil can then be ingested as a liquid, a capsule, a gummy, or inhaled through vaping. It can also be added as an ingredient in such products as lotions and skin patches.
There is much about CBD that is still unknown. It has largely gone unstudied because, until 2018, it was considered a schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). A schedule I drug is a drug that has been declared illegal by the DEA because of safety concerns over its potential for abuse and because there is no accepted medical use for it. Then, in September 2018, the DEA updated CBD’s status to become a schedule V drug. Schedule V drugs have a lower potential for abuse and are deemed to have some medical use.
There is currently 1 CBD treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Epidiolex, which is used to treat a rare and severe form of epilepsy in children. There are not currently any FDA-approved CBD medications for treating cancer or side effects of cancer treatments.
Can CBD help people with cancer?
Studies to answer this question are underway. Some scientists are studying whether CBD could relieve some of the side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as pain, insomnia, anxiety, or nausea. Other scientists are studying whether CBD could potentially slow or stop the growth of cancer.
To date, no large-scale studies have shown CBD to have benefits for the treatment of people with cancer. Most studies that have been done evaluating CBD as a cancer treatment were in mice or in human cells in the lab. For instance, there are some studies that have shown that CBD inhibits the growth of cancer cells in mice with lung cancer or colon cancer. Another study showed that CBD, together with THC, killed glioblastoma cancer cells in the lab. However, no studies have been conducted in people with cancer.
There have been some studies that show that CBD, alone or together with THC, may relieve pain, insomnia, or anxiety, but these studies were not specific to people with cancer. While no studies to date have shown that CBD eases these side effects specifically in people with cancer or people receiving cancer treatment, some people with cancer have reported benefits in taking CBD, such as helping with nausea, vomiting, depression, and other side effects. According to ASCO guidelines, your doctor may consider prescribing cannabinoids for chronic pain management if you live in a state where it is legal. However, ASCO guidelines state that there is not enough evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for preventing nausea and vomiting in people with cancer receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
There are 2 synthetic cannabis medications, nabilone (Cesamet) and dronabinol (Marinol or Syndros), that are FDA-approved to treat nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy. These medications are made in a laboratory.
Is CBD safe for people with cancer?
You may find stories online of people discussing the benefits of CBD as a cancer treatment or as relief for side effects. Please remember that such personal stories, while they may be well-meaning, are shared without scientific study and do not constitute evidence. The safety and efficacy of CBD for people with cancer still has to be proven in large, randomized, controlled clinical trials.
It is also important to note that some studies have shown that CBD might interfere with how your body processes cancer drugs, called a drug interaction. This might make cancer treatments more toxic or make them less effective. More research is needed on these effects, too. For these reasons, always tell your oncologist if you’re thinking about using CBD before you take it.
You may also be wondering if CBD is legal in your area. Some states allow the sale and possession of cannabis, including CBD and THC, for medical and recreational use. Others have stricter regulations, so state-by-state laws should always be learned before transporting CBD across state lines. Things are more complicated at the federal level. In 2018, the U.S. government recognized that hemp can be grown and manufactured legally as part of the Farm Act. Hemp can be used to make things like rope and clothing, in addition to CBD oil. In other words, hemp is no longer a controlled substance, which means it is not regulated by the government. This means that consumers have to evaluate the safety and quality of CBD products on their own. Some CBD, for example, may have much higher levels of THC than what is labeled.
The bottom line is this: Always talk to your doctor first if you’re thinking about using CBD. Because the research does not yet support the use of CBD in helping people with cancer, it’s important to raise the topic with your doctor before taking it. There are several clinical trials underway studying the use of CBD in cancer care, and you and your oncologist can talk through the possible benefits and risks of you joining a research study to help find answers to some of the questions about CBD, including whether it may reduce side effects or improve quality of life.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has become a buzzword within the cancer community. But while some people with cancer have found CBD to be helpful in managing side effects, research does not yet support CBD’s use for cancer treatment. Here, find out what CBD is, how it is being studied in people with cancer, and whether it is safe, effective, and legal.
Cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes
Cannabis comes from the cannabis plant. The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is a type of cannabinoid. There are many other types of cannabinoids in cannabis. Cannabinoids are chemicals that act on certain receptors on cells in our body, especially cells in the central nervous system.
Some people believe that cannabis can help control or relieve some of the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatments. But research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about the effectiveness of smoking cannabis. Research does show that some cannabinoids can help with some symptoms and side effects, and drugs containing cannabinoids have been developed to treat pain, nausea and vomiting.
Medical cannabis is legal in Canada, and recreational cannabis is legalized as of October 2018. The Canadian government allows seriously ill people access to cannabis for medical reasons. This is commonly called medical cannabis.
People who want to use cannabis for medical purposes must get a medical document (like a prescription) from a doctor or nurse practitioner. With this document, they can purchase cannabis for medical purposes through licensed producers in Canada. It comes in many forms including dried cannabis, cannabis oil, or fresh cannabis buds or leaves that can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten in food
Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations give people with cancer the option to use cannabis for medical purposes to help manage their symptoms and side effects. Talk to your healthcare team about the benefits and risks of using medical cannabis. They can help you decide if it is right for you.
Relieving symptoms and side effects
Using cannabis, drugs containing cannabinoids or both may help you relax and give you a sense of well-being. But studies on the effectiveness of cannabis have had different results. Some people with cancer may find using cannabis or drugs that contain cannabinoids helps them cope with these symptoms and side effects.
Nausea and vomiting
Several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both. These are side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Nabilone (Cesamet) is a pill that has synthetic cannabinoids. It is approved in Canada to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It’s sometimes given to people with cancer if standard antinausea drugs do not help relieve these symptoms.
Loss of appetite
Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with cancer. Loss of appetite and weight loss (which is called cachexia when it is severe) often occur together.
Some people find that cannabis can increase their appetite. Several clinical trials looked at cannabis’s effects on appetite or weight loss in people with cancer. To date, these studies haven’t shown for certain that cannabis can effectively improve appetite. Research into whether or not cannabinoids can help people with cancer deal with loss of appetite hasn’t had clear results.
Find out more about loss of appetite.
Some people claim that cannabis can help relieve long-term (chronic) or severe pain. Research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about the effectiveness of cannabis to relieve pain.
Some clinical trials showed that cannabinoids help reduce pain in some people.
Sativex is a combination of delta-9-THC (Tetranabinex) and cannabidiol (Nabidiolex). It has been approved for use in Canada as a spray that can be applied to the cheek inside the mouth. Savitex may be used to relieve pain from advanced cancer that can’t be relieved with the strongest dose of opioids.
Find out more about pain and opioids.
Side effects and risks of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes
The benefits and risks of cannabis for medical purposes have not been thoroughly reviewed by Health Canada, and individual products have not gone through an approval process. When approving a drug, Health Canada reviews the evidence to make sure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks and negative side effects. Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about using cannabis for medical purposes or other drugs that contain cannabinoids. There is not enough information to know how using cannabis will interact with drugs and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Some studies show that smoking cannabis over a long period of time may increase the risk of lung and other cancers. Other studies did not have the same results. Using cannabis may also cause these and other side effects:
- problems with memory and concentration
- sensory changes, including a lack of balance and slower reaction times
- dry mouth
- rapid heart beat
- a rise in blood pressure
Ongoing research into cannabis and cannabinoids
Currently, researchers are studying cannabis and drugs that contain cannabinoids to find out more about how they might effectively relieve symptoms of cancer or side effects of cancer treatments. More research is needed to find out the dose and type of cannabis that helps the most with the fewest side effects, the risks and benefits of using medical cannabis for a long time and how medical cannabis might interact with other drugs used to treat cancer.
Researchers are also still trying to find out if cannabis or cannabinoids should be used as medicine to treat certain diseases, including cancer. Research into the effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells in vitro and on experimental animals has shown some promise. But this research is still in the very early stages. Much more study is needed before cannabis or cannabinoids can be used as a cancer treatment.
The brain and spinal cord, which work together to control all the functions of the body.
The brain receives messages (electrical signals) from nerves in the spinal cord and cranial nerves. The nerves in the spinal cord carry messages between the brain and the body.
Occurring in an artificial environment (such as a lab) outside of the body. In vitro is Latin for in glass (as in a test tube).
For example, in vitro fertilization is a procedure in which an egg is fertilized with sperm to form an embryo outside of the body.
People with cancer may choose to use medical marijuana to help manage their symptoms and side effects. Learn about medical marijuana and cancer in Canada.