Those who Google “CBD” and “cancer” will find that there is no shortage of stories and testimonies about the beneficial effects of CBD on cancer. Before we go into more detail, it is helpful to distinguish here between palliative and therapeutic use of cannabinoids. Palliative means that a treatment is aimed at alleviating the symptoms or making them more bearable, therapeutic use is aimed at healing the ailment. Cannabinoids for palliative use are increasingly better known and more often used (think of medical cannabis, for example). The palliative application of cannabinoids is described in more detail in the sections Pain, Sleep and Nausea and vomiting. Whether cannabinoids can cure cancer is a question that induces more controversy. Some people, including for example Rick Simpson, believe cannabinoids can cure any type of cancer. Critics counter that this is not very likely when you consider that over a hundred different types of cancer exist, each requiring a specific approach. So what’s true about cannabinoids curing cancer?
Scientific research on CBD for the treatment of cancer
In 1975 Munson and colleagues discovered for the first time, that the growth of a particular type of cancer (called adenocarcinoma) was inhibited by administering THC to mice with this form of cancer . From this time on, the focus of research increasingly shifted to CBD. The reason for this is partly due to the psychoactive effects of THC. Patients who use cannabinoids as medicine often find psychoactive effects (getting high or stoned) unpleasant. CBD has no psychoactive effect and is therefore interesting to examine for medical applications.
In 2013 a scientific article was published by Massi and co-workers in which they give an overview of the most important findings of cannabinoids as a potential anticancer drug . Several types of cancer are discussed in this article, before they come to a general conclusion. For this particular article, we limit ourselves to this general conclusion for now. The entire article is available by clicking on the link below.
Conclusion article Massi and co-workers
When affected by cancer, several things in the body go wrong. The most well-known property of cancer is an uncontrolled division of cells. In some tumor cells CBD appears to be inhibiting this rapid multiplication. This is called anti-proliferative.
Another problem in cancer is that cells do not proceed to programmed cell death (apoptosis). Each cell in our bodies is programmed to die when new cells are created. In cancer, this sometimes doesn’t happen. CBD seems to promotes this necessary process of apoptosis. Finally, there is the problem that cancer cells can migrate to other parts of the body, and can cause metastasis of the cancer cells. Possibly CBD also has characteristics that counter this process.
On the basis of the studies that are discussed in this article, CBD shows potential to be useful in both the inhibition of tumor growth and the spread of cancer throughout the body. Moreover, the effect of CBD seems to be specific to cancer cells and doesn’t seem to affect healthy cells.
Most of the data that has been collected in the scientific research that we discussed is data that has been obtained in vitro. In this case, in vitro means that the data was obtained from cell lines in a laboratory. The results obtained in vitro do not always match those of in vivo studies (studies that have been done in living organisms). However, some of the discussed effects have also been observed in animal studies. But we must also be careful in interpreting animal studies, as animals are not humans. Having said this, CBD definitely remains an interesting subject to further investigate. One of the things that makes CBD interesting is the remarkably low toxicity of this compound. People who received a very high dose of CBD for a longer period of time (700mg p/day for 6 weeks) tolerated it very well. This is good news for CBD as potential future medicine.
Current state of scientific research
New drugs typically go through four stages of research before they are marketed. Phase 1 focuses on the safety of a product and a suitable dosage. When the results of the studies in phase 1 are favorable (as with CBD) research can proceed to the next stage. The research on CBD as an anti-cancer drug is currently in phase 2. This means that the research is currently focusing on a larger group of people and is primarily studying the effectiveness of CBD. For now we know that CBD can be used safely, even in high doses, but it is not yet been determined how effective it is as a remedy for cancer. We can of course look carefully at the research done in laboratories and with animals.
Advice for using cannabinoids against cancer
Medical use of cannabinoids is becoming more and more common and accepted. Cancer patients have been using cannabis medically for some time now, in particular against a number of unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. It is now widely known that cannabis can combat nausea, alleviate pain, stimulate appetite and can be used as a sedative. That cannabinoids are not only effective as palliative medicine, but may also actually have a therapeutic effect on cancer is a newer concept that is known by fewer people. Laboratory and animal studies show the potential of cannabinoids as anti-cancer drugs, but evidence that cannabinoids can cure cancer in humans is lacking at the moment. That doesn’t mean that CBD shouldn’t be given a shot, especially because CBD is generally safe to use. Possibly CBD can even be used in addition to regular cancer treatment. If you are considering the use of cannabinoids like CBD against cancer, always consult your doctor or specialist first. Click here to read more about safe use of cannabinoids.
- Munson, A.E., Harris, L.S., Friedman, M.A., Dewey, W.L., and Carchman, R.A. (1975), Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 55: 597-602.
- Massi, P., Solinas, M., Cinquina, V. and Parolaro, D. (2013), Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75: 303–312.