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.
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 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 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 and for certain types of cancer.
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.
Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:
- increased heart rate
- blood pressure problems
- 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.
Sativex and temozolomide for a brain tumour (glioblastoma) that has come back
In 2021, scientists reported the final results of a phase 1 study to treat people with recurrent glioblastoma (a type of brain tumour that has come back). The study looked at Sativex in combination with the chemotherapy drug temozolomide.
Researchers found that adding Sativex caused side effects, which included, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and headache but patients found the side effects manageable.
They also observed that 83 out of 100 people (83%) were alive after one year using Sativex, compared to 44 out of 100 people (44%) taking the placebo.
However, this phase 1 study only involved 27 patients, which was too small to learn about any potential benefits of Sativex. The study wanted to find out if Sativex and temozolomide was safe to take by patients.
Researchers now plan to run a larger phase 2 trial, to find out if this treatment is effective and who might benefit from it.
Sativex and 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 and 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.
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.
The science blog on our website has more information about cannabis and cancer.
Cbd oil for bone mets
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.
Sue’s story: Alleviating chronic pain from secondary bone metastases cancer
In December 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my right breast. I underwent a lumpectomy and a 4 week intensive course of radiotherapy. I refused chemotherapy because I considered it to be too invasive a treatment for me. In 2016 I did however, begin an endocrine treatment (Tamoxifen) to help prevent a resurgence of the cancer.
Sadly for me, one week into this endocrine treatment I suffered liver failure: I was told I had three years to live unless my liver repaired itself. I stopped the endocrine treatment, cut out alcohol and started an alkaline diet. Thankfully my liver recovered within three months and still functions well, however I was left with a threat of an associated condition called Varices, a weakening of the veins which can cause internal bleeding. To date, my follow up breast scans continue to be clear, which is positive.
Turning to CBD for chronic, long-term pain
In 2018, I developed pain in my right pelvic area which was later aggravated by a fall I had on an icy path. A bone density scan I had previously had in 2017 had revealed mild Osteopenia, so I attributed the pain in my pelvis to that condition and I did not consult a Doctor.
I did not want to rely on long term conventional painkillers for my hip because I was concerned they could aggravate the Varices threat which later down the line proved to be correct and also my liver, so I researched CBD oil as an alternative pain relief. This was no easy feat, and an expensive one, as I discovered that many brands and strengths below 1000mg did not have any effect at all on my pain. However, after two months of trailing different types I did find a CBD full spectrum (no THC) 1200mg product that instantly relieved the pain, but I had to take frequent dosages to completely control it. But it did so effectively.
In November 2019 I fell ill with an unidentified infection which caused much pain in my lower left abdomen. Despite various tests, doctors were unable to diagnose the nature of the infection, which resulted in three different courses of antibiotics being prescribed, over a period of two months. I ceased CBD oil at this time as I didn’t know if it would interfere with the medication and therefore resorted to conventional pain killers to alleviate both the abdominal pain and the chronic pain in my right hip. Sadly, the infection did not go away and after two months of this excessive pain I was rushed into hospital in January 2020, with severe internal bleeding in the stomach and upper digestive tract.
Secondary cancer diagnosis & prescription medical cannabis treatment
The internal bleeding was treated successfully and the intravenous antibiotic I was given in hospital seemed to clear up the mystery infection. However, during my week of hospitalisation a scan of my abdomen revealed bony metastases (secondary breast cancer) in my right pelvis and lower spine. Unbeknown to me this had been the cause of the chronic pain in my right hip. So despite my breast scans remaining clear it appears the cancer had resurfaced in my spine and pelvic area.
Following a consultation with an Oncologist I agreed to take a different Endocrine treatment (Letrezole), to manage the cancer going forward. I also resumed the CBD oil for the pain relief. I am unable to take conventional pain killers due to the Varices, so I realised that if the cancer got worse I would potentially need a stronger CBD medication to control any increased pain, which is what prompted me to look for a private, qualified medical cannabis consultant.
A breast cancer nurse assisted me with this task and I was introduced to Dr Liz Iveson, a member of the Society’s expert committee. Since March 2020 I have been taking prescription Bedrolite CBD oil to manage the chronic pain in my pelvis. The medical CBD is stronger than the self-medicating CBD oil I had taken previously, so I require a much lesser dose to achieve the same level of pain control.
I now take the Letrozole endocrine treatment, which luckily I have not had an adverse reaction to, and the medical cannabis for the pain relief. My three monthly checks and blood tests show that the cancer is being effectively managed.
Successfully managing pain with prescription CBD
I personally have not experienced any side effects from either non medical or medical cannabis. Though I sleep much better at night as a result of CBD, it does not cause drowsiness during the day, so it does not affect my ability to drive safely. Also my ongoing blood tests and scans show that it is not interfering with the endocrine medication I take.
To sum up my experience with CBD oil, it allows me to enjoy a pain-free, full life rather than a painful existence. I very much enjoy walking as a means to relax; with CBD oil I can walk 6 or 7 miles easily with no problem at all. Without CBD oil I struggle to walk a mile and I limp quite profusely, even getting into a standing position is difficult.
CBD treatment makes a huge difference to the quality of my life, keeping a positive attitude does too. I refuse to dwell on how many years I will live with cancer. I do not want to waste my life thinking about the day I will die. I enjoy my life and intend to continue doing so.
As a last point I would like to counter argue the placebo effect that some label CBD with. In my early days of research I had to try various brands and strengths of CBD until I found one that worked. This was extremely time consuming and very costly. If, I had been of a placebo mindset, trust me I would have settled on the first brand I tried and saved myself a whole lot of time and money!
I can only sing the praises of medical cannabis from my personal experience, and would urge anyone suffering chronic pain to at least try it. You may be surprised at what a beneficial difference it can make to one’s quality of life and mental well being.