As well as chemotherapy, many cancer patients receive radiotherapy treatment. This involves exposing the tumour cells to high-energy radiation to cause alterations that will halt cell division and induce their death. As in the case of chemotherapy, there is preclinical evidence to suggest that cannabinoids might sensitise tumours to this type of treatment. Scott and collaborators, for example, showed that a combination of submaximal doses (i.e. doses that exercise very discreet antitumour effects in themselves) of THC + cannabidiol (CBD) and radiation, caused a dramatic reduction in the growth of glioblastomas generated in mice 6 .
10. Muñoz E. Cannabinoides y sistema inmune. En: Efectos terapéuticos de los cannabinoides. Ed: Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Neuroquímica de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 2017. p. 55-64.
What does the preclinical research suggest?
To date, only one clinical trial has been conducted specifically to analyse the combined effect of cannabinoids and an antitumour drug. This trial, conducted in hospitals in the UK and Germany amongst patients with recurring glioblastoma, analysed the safety and effectiveness of combining temozolomide and Sativex, a cannabinoid drug containing approximately the same amount of THC and CBD:
3. Gustafsson SB, Lindgren T, Jonsson M, Jacobsson SO. Cannabinoid receptor-independent cytotoxic effects of cannabinoids in human colorectal carcinoma cells: synergism with 5-fluorouracil. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2009;63(4):691-701.
5. Miyato H, Kitayama J, Yamashita H, Souma D, Asakage M, Yamada J, et al. Pharmacological synergism between cannabinoids and paclitaxel in gastric cancer cell lines. J Surg Res. 2009;155(1):40-7.
Some cannabis based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. The following medicines are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms.
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:
Cannabis is a class B drug and 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.
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.
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.
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.
Can CBD help 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.
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.
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.
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.