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CBD oil and cancer: 9 things to know

BY Cynthia DeMarco

CBD oil (cannabidiol) is everywhere these days. Once available only at novelty or vitamin shops, it’s now also at your local grocery store, pharmacy or even yoga studio.

It comes in many forms: oils that are dropped under the tongue, roll-ons that are applied to the skin and even solutions for vaping. Some producers extract CBD oil and add it into foods to create edible products.

But what is CBD oil exactly, and how does it affect cancer patients? Can it really treat — or even cure — cancer or relieve its symptoms? To separate fact from fiction, we spoke with our Kimberson Tanco, M.D. Here’s what he wants cancer patients to know.

What is CBD oil, and how does it differ from marijuana and hemp?

Marijuana and hemp are both varieties of the cannabis sativa plant. Both contain cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the two most-common, known active ingredients.

The main difference is that hemp has far less THC than a typical marijuana plant. And unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive agent, so there’s less possibility that it will cause the same mental confusion, drowsiness or hallucinations that often come with THC.

Is there any truth to the claims that CBD oil can cure cancer?

Right now, no. There is no evidence that CBD oil can cure cancer.

What, if anything, can CBD oil do to alleviate the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment?

It’s hard to say if CBD oil can alleviate cancer symptoms or cancer treatment side effects, because the studies are pretty mixed and even fewer are standardized.

There have been reports that cannabinoids like THC and CBD may be helpful for nausea and vomiting and anorexia, as well as neuropathy, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Synthetic cannabinoids like dronabinol have been approved for use with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, but have not been shown to be superior to conventional anti-nausea medications.

Have any CBD-oil derived products been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cancer, its symptoms, or the side effects caused by its treatment?

Have any products using CBD-oil been approved by the FDA to treat anything?

Yes. Epidiolex. It was originally approved in 2018 for the treatment of two conditions, both related to epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. But aside from Epidiolex, no CBD product has been approved by the FDA for any other medical purpose.

What are the dangers of using CBD oil?

Quality, cleanliness and regulation are the biggest concerns.

All drugs and dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA. But as long as CBD oil is not marketed as a medicine or a dietary supplement, producers can get around that policy. So right now, CBD oil is very unregulated. That means it’s hard to know how much CBD or THC is really in any given product. Certain hemp CBD products have been found to contain significantly less CBD or more THC than advertised.

In terms of purity, THC and CBD are both extracted from hemp and marijuana using essentially similar processes. But trace amounts of THC could still end up in CBD oil. And if the THC is at a high enough concentration, it could produce the psychoactive effects that THC is known for.

Second, if a lab produces both CBD and THC products, there can be cross-contamination — whether it’s through extraction, handling or packaging.

Third, the plant itself may have higher levels of THC than expected. This could be due to its environment, prolonged flowering periods or cross-contamination and pollination between male and female plants, resulting in offspring with higher THC content. This especially affects hemp plants, which should have less than 0.3% THC levels.

Finally, there have been some reports of people getting infections after using CBD and cannabis products. This is especially concerning for immunocompromised patients, who are already susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.

Studies on a certain CBD manufacturer showed its products were contaminated with a chemical known as 5F-ADB, which mimics THC. 5F-ADB is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as illegal, potentially addictive and with no accepted medical use.

Other sorts of substances have been found in CBD products, too, such as dextromethorphan, which is an ingredient in cough medicines. Heavy metals like lead and arsenic, pesticides and mold have also been found in CBD products.

Does CBD oil have any side effects?

CBD oil can adversely affect liver function. In fact, this is on the warning label for Epidiolex.

And in lab studies, CBD has been shown to inhibit certain enzymes responsible for the metabolism of drugs, such as CYP2D6 and CYP3A4. This can affect how drugs work and affect our bodies, either by reducing their efficiency or making them more dangerous. This includes chemotherapy and other medications.

This is very important for cancer patients to understand, as many people think CBD oil is not a medicine. They think of it more as a vitamin or a supplement, so they might not let their doctors know they’re using it. Patients might not realize it can be potentially harmful. So, it’s very important to tell your doctor if you’re using CBD oil.

Is CBD oil even legal?

CBD has a very complex legal status right now.

At the national level, any product of marijuana — including CBD — is still technically illegal when used medically. Although the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp nationally, that’s only permitted if it’s not marketed for medical use or as a dietary supplement. CBD products intended for medical use should undergo an FDA review process.

State laws vary. In Texas, the Compassionate Use Act allows for the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions. Originally only for intractable epilepsy, the law was expanded this year to include cancer and certain neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

But the application of this law is pretty jumbled right now. So, while it may be legal to use CBD in a state like Colorado or Alaska, if an employer follows federal regulations, the standardization and quality of a CBD product matters. Because if there’s even a small percentage of THC in that product, then a drug test might come back positive. And this could result in legal issues for the user.

What’s the most important thing cancer patients should know about CBD oil?

There’s still a lot to learn. So always let your health care team know if you are using CBD oil. That way, we can make sure nothing interacts adversely with your cancer treatments or other medications.

Also, avoid products with health-related claims on their labels. The only product approved by the FDA for its medical value is Epidiolex.

Wondering whether you should use CBD oil to cope with cancer treatment and its side effects? We spoke with Kimberson Tanco, M.D., to separate fact from fiction.

Does CBD oil work for cancer?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in the cannabis plant that may have many potential therapeutic uses. By mixing CBD with a carrier oil, people can create a CBD oil. Although more research is necessary, evidence suggests that CBD oil may have some use in the treatment of cancer.

A sample of CBD oil coming out of a dropper.

While it is too early to make strong claims about using CBD oil for cancer treatment, evidence indicates that it may help to manage symptoms resulting from the disease or its treatment.

Although initial results from small and animal studies on cancerous cells and CBD oil are promising, they are not yet conclusive. More research is still necessary to determine how effective CBD oil may be in the treatment of cancer.

A person should always check with their doctor before using CBD oil to ensure it will not interact negatively with any current medication or forms of treatment.

This article contains information on what researchers know related to CBD oil and cancer, and how to choose and use CBD oil products.

Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.

CBD is one of many phytochemicals present in the Cannabis sativa (C. sativa) plant. It is one of the two most well-known cannabinoids, along with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is the chemical responsible for the “high” that many people may associate with cannabis. CBD, which shows promise for treating a number of health conditions, is non-impairing and will not cause a person to feel high.

To create a CBD oil, manufacturers extract CBD from the C. sativa plant, then mix it with a carrier oil. A common extraction process that manufacturers use is the supercritical carbon dioxide method . This is a clean and cost-effective method that uses heat, pressure, and carbon dioxide to separate CBD from the plant.

Producers then dilute the CBD with a nontoxic oil to produce CBD oil. According to the National Cancer Institute , CBD oil typically contains between 1–5% CBD.

While more research investigating the use of cannabis or cannabinoids as a cancer treatment is necessary, some evidence shows promise. In 2016, researchers noted that cannabinoids may reduce tumor growth in different types of cancers in test tube and animal models.

The National Cancer Institute adds that CBD may help to enhance the uptake or increase the potency of certain drugs that doctors may use to treat cancer.

A 2019 literature review indicates that several studies found that CBD extracts may help to reduce cancer cell viability and prevent cancer cells from multiplying.

A 2019 review focusing on pancreatic cancer suggests that cannabinoids may help slow tumor growth, reduce tumor invasion, and induce tumor cell death. A 2014 study also notes that CBD may have the potential to inhibit the spread of colorectal cancer cells.

A 2019 study indicates that CBD may encourage cell death and make glioblastoma cells more sensitive to radiation. This is consistent with a 2014 review, which also suggests that cannabinoids may possess anti-tumor properties.

However, it is worth noting that research is still in its early stages. Most evidence is largely from laboratory- or animal-based studies. Therefore, more research and human studies are necessary to determine the potential anti-cancer properties of CBD oil.

Investigating CBD and its use as a cancer treatment may also be difficult due to ethical issues. Many studies investigating CBD may incorporate chemotherapy medication. Therefore, this may make it difficult to interpret how effective CBD is in treating cancer by itself.

Does CBD oil work for treating cancer? Read on to discover more about CBD oil and cancer, such as how effective it is for helping cancer treatment.