Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?
As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
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In the summer of 2012, George Wilkins, a documentary filmmaker, was in his friend’s health food shop when a customer walked in, looking exceptionally ill. “He walked up to the counter and asked for hemp oil to help treat his lung cancer,” explains the 29-year-old from Hull.
“When I quizzed him, it turned out he was muddling hemp oil with cannabis oil. Still, I thought, why would he want that? So when I got home, I started researching it and found some quite compelling scientific evidence about the huge benefits of cannabis oil for cancer patients. Meanwhile, the health of the guy who came into the shop improved significantly within just a month of taking it.”
Wilkins, who runs a film production company, wasted no time in spotting an opportunity to make a documentary and, two-and-a-half years on, Project Storm has just launched on YouTube. Crowd-funded by supporters and following the stories of six UK cancer patients (two of whom are children) who are being treated using cannabis oil, the film is controversial, but is seen as big news by a fast-growing community that wants to promote this more integrated approach to oncology.
Cannabis oil, which requires an extra stage of preparation once the plant has been harvested, is basically made up of cannabinoids such as CBD and the psychoactive THC, the active chemicals found in the plant that cause the “high” sought by recreational users. Already forming the basic make-up of the pharmaceutical cannabis-based drug Sativex, which is used to treat MS, growing scientific research now suggests that cannabis oil may also possess anti-cancer properties that help stem the growth of malignant tumours. The crème-de-la-creme is seen as 1:1 oils, which contain equal amounts of THC and CBD, which, when combined, are more effective. CBD also has the added benefit of moderating the psychoactive effects of THC.
“I’m not claiming cannabis oil is a miracle,” says Wilkins, who explains that the six patients that the documentary follows range from three to 75 years old and are being treated for various cancers including prostate, glioma (brain), bowel and GBM, a common childhood cancer. “Nor am I suggesting people should stop more conventional treatments for cancer. In fact, my whole aim with the film is to blow the hyperbole out of the water. After all, if you couple the fact that there are very polarised opinions on this issue with the fact that those who shout the loudest get their views heard on the internet, it means that cancer patients looking to make a genuinely informed choice can find it impossible. I wanted to try and fill that gap.”
It is true that the film points out some of the limits of current research, as well as highlighting some of the potentially negative aspects of cannabis oil (side effects such as anxiety, for example, as well as the problems of scammers selling olive oil as cannabis oil). Moreover, the film does not hide the fact that the outcomes for the six patients are not all positive. But it would be a stretch to call the film objective, with Wilkins himself responding to the question, “Did you contact organisations such as Cancer Research UK?” with the answer, “Why would I want to do that?” Cancer Research UK, he explains, claims there isn’t enough reliable evidence to prove whether cannabinoids can effectively treat cancer, whereas he’d like to see the drug legalised. Moreover, Wilkins chose YouTube over channels including the BBC “because the channels wanted to change the slant I took”.
There was a second reason, he adds. “They didn’t want me to focus so heavily on Jeff Ditchfield because of his past convictions. But Jeff is the pivotal person in the whole movement.”
Indeed, having founded the organisation Bud Buddies in 2002 – which supplied cannabis to ill and disabled people free of charge – and now a regular lecturer on the medical properties of cannabis to the Royal College of GPs, Ditchfield is recognised as a hugely influential figure in the development of medicinal cannabis in Britain.
For five years, Ditchfield operated from a cannabis coffee shop in Rhyl, north Wales that, despite being under constant surveillance and subjected to six police raids, became a key part of the local community. But in 2007, he resettled in Spain, where Bud Buddies now receives support and sponsorship from companies within the cannabis industry, as well as raising funding from books and seed sales. “I chose Spain because unlike in the UK, supplying cannabis in Spain is only illegal if you profit in some way,” says Ditchfield, who put Wilkins in touch with the six subjects of the documentary. “Spain has a far more open-minded attitude to research in medical cannabis.”
Wilkins’ endeavour cannot have been made easy by the fact that even some experts who have made headway with research refused to get involved in the film. Dr Wai Liu at St George’s University in London, whose research suggests that cannabinoids possess anti-cancer properties that help to stem the growth of malignant tumours, told The Independent that he was among them.
“There is lots of evidence to suggest that cannabis might work with cancer patients, but as it stands there is still no firm proof on humans,” he says. “I didn’t want to be associated with a film where I couldn’t be certain that this picture would be presented impartially.”
Dr Emma Smith, a senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, shares his concern. “I haven’t actually seen the film, but following six patients in this way is purely anecdotal and those who survived might have done anyway without taking cannabis oil. I am also worried that the potential benefits of cannabis in cancer treatment are often presented in a misleading and overhyped way. Furthermore, cannabis is both illegal and could interfere with other treatments you are having. Finally, most of the research that has been done to date is on cancer cells grown in the lab or on mice.”
This is not to say that cannabis has no future role, she says. “But as it stands, we still need proper trials to know for sure whether it has any effect and if so, for what types of cancer, at what dose and in conjunction with what other treatments.”
These trials can’t come soon enough, believes Peter McCormick, a lecturer in Cell Biology at the School of Pharmacy at the University of East Anglia, who earlier this year found that THC could help combat the growth of cancerous cells. “There are hundreds of reports out there and I do get concerned about them being written off as some anomaly or people trying to push recreational drugs into a legalised setting. The reality is that there are plenty of cases where cannabinoids do seem to be doing something and our study is further evidence that more research needs to be done.”
As for Wilkins, he hopes that, at the very minimum, the film provides cancer patients with a fuller picture than they’ve had access to so far and that it acts as a catalyst in what everyone agrees is a much needed debate.
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7 Potential Benefits of CBD Oil, The Wellness World’s New Fave Supplement
CBD oil is on everyone's radar these days, with claims pointing to evidence that CBD oil can do everything from cure cancer to reduce anxiety. But what's the truth? With this guide, we're looking into some of the top touted benefits of CBD oil to clue you into the truth about this much-lauded supplement.
This guide to the benefits of CBD oil is part one of a three-part series on CBD oil. Please also check out our buying guide to CBD oil and our CBD oil FAQ.
How CBD Works in Your Body
To understand the benefits of CBD oil, it's important to first understand the endocannabinoid system, a relatively newly discovered part of the human body that naturally produces certain cannabinoids, similar to CBD (cannabidiol) or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant.
"Endo stands for endogenous, originating within the body," explains Stormy Simon, former President of Overstock.com and champion of the cannabis industry.
She notes that the endocannabinoid system has two types of receptors – CB1, which are mostly located in the brain, as well as in the nerve endings, and CB2, which are found in the immune system and in tissues of the spleen and tonsils.
"CB1 receptors in the brain are associated with emotions, moods, appetite, coordination, movement, and pain," she says.
"Think of [the endocannabinoid system] as a bridge between body and mind with its interactions throughout our internal systems."
Research purports that while the human body does produce cannabinoids on its own, adding new cannabinoids from an external source, like cannabis or CBD oil, can help promote a healthy endocannabinoid system.
What the Latest Research Says about CBD
Seeing as the endocannabinoid system is a relatively recent discovery, the effects of CBD oil and other cannabinoids on this system are still being explored by researchers, and there is very little conclusive evidence regarding the health benefits of the substance.
According to a recent WHO report on the effects of CBD oil, the product has a low human bioavailability (about 6 percent from oral delivery, according to a 2004 study in Pharmaceutical Press), while aerosolized CBD "has been reported to yield rapid peak plasma concentrations."
The report also notes that while the effects of CBD have yet to be conclusively proven, what has been observed is that the effects of this cannabinoid are quite different from those of psychoactive THC, notably with regards to behavioral characteristics and stress reactions in mice.
It is important to note that much of the research that has been conducted thus far on CBD is done with far higher dosages than what is available over the counter: hundreds of milligrams per day, as opposed to the standard serving of 25 milligrams recommended by most CBD oil producers.
"Most research is done on pharmaceutical levels," explains Dr. Gabrielle Francis. "That is the nature of research and it is useful when looking for medical effects."
However, Consumer Labs reports, "It is not known if these low doses are as effective as higher doses."
Bearing this in mind, here are seven benefits of CBD oil to watch.
Anxiety is one of the most oft-cited benefits touted by those who have begun taking CBD oil on a regular basis, but at present, evidence in favor of these therapeutic effects seem uncertain at best.
One 2016 case study of the use of CBD oil in the treatment of anxiety in a ten-year-old girl proved promising, and a 2017 research review in Current Neuropharmacology examining both animal and human studies pointed to some evidence that CBD could be used to treat panic disorder (PD). Researchers working on this review concluded, however, that "novel clinical trials involving patients with the PD diagnosis are clearly needed to clarify the specific mechanism of action of CBD and the safe and ideal therapeutic doses of this compound."
A 2015 research review, meanwhile, found that "existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely" but also noted that the studies looked at CBD administered acutely in healthy adults, and that thus far, few studies had investigated CBD as a regular treatment for anxiety over the long term.
"Overall," the authors write, "Current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, with need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations."
Cancer is yet another widely touted benefit of CBD, but the sheer variety of types of cancers makes it difficult to suss out the exact benefits of CBD oil in its treatment or prevention.
In a 2012 review partially funded by GW Pharmaceutical, CBD was found to exhibit "pro‐apoptotic and anti‐proliferative actions" in different types of tumors, thus leading researchers to conclude that "evidence is emerging to suggest that CBD is a potent inhibitor of both cancer growth and spread."
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Aside from this research, a number of studies have shown positive in vitro effects of CBD on cancer cells, including a 2014 study on prostate cancer cells, a 2004 study on glioma cells, a 2013 study on melanoma cells, and a 2010 study in bladder cancer cells. A 2006 in vitro study on the effects of CBD on breast cancer cells has been followed up by several studies in mice, including one promising 2007 study showing that CBD could reduce the expression of the ld-1 gene in aggressive human breast cancer cells, thus providing a possible therapeutic option for aggressive and metastatic breast cancer, but human clinical trials are necessary to confirm these possible benefits.
A human study published in 2006 did link THC (which is present in cannabis but negligible in the industrial hemp used to manufacture CBD oil) to inhibiting tumor growth in patients with glioblastoma multiforme, and last year, an exploratory Phase 2 clinical study of a GW Pharmaceuticals proprietary CBD/THC drug in 21 patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme was deemed "promising."
“The findings from this well-designed controlled study suggest that the addition of a combination of THC and CBD to patients on dose-intensive temozolomide produced relevant improvements in survival compared with placebo and this is a good signal of potential efficacy,” said Professor Susan Short, PhD, Professor of Clinical Oncology and Neuro-Oncology at Leeds Institute of Cancer and Pathology at St James’s University Hospital and principal investigator of the study. “Moreover, the cannabinoid medicine was generally well tolerated. These promising results are of particular interest as the pharmacology of the THC:CBD product appears to be distinct from existing oncology medications and may offer a unique and possibly synergistic option for future glioma treatment.”
Epilepsy is perhaps the best-tested benefit of CBD thus far, with growing evidence in favor of its therapeutic application.
The use of CBD for this purpose has been well established, with studies in animals dating back to the 1970s. A small double-blind placebo-controlled trial showed a significant reduction in seizures in two of four patients who were treated with 200 mg of CBD daily, with partial improvement in one patient and no improvement in the fourth patient, and another 15-patient double-blind study found that of the eight participants being treated with 200-300 mg of CBD daily, four were almost seizure-free and three others showed partial improvement. (One showed no improvement.)
"The clinical use of CBD is most advanced in the treatment of epilepsy," writes WHO in its report on the uses of CBD, noting that one CBD-based drug, Epidiolex from GW Pharmaceuticals, was recently approved by the FDA. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of the drug found that it decreased the median frequency of convulsive seizures per month from 12.4 to 5.9. The trial did, however, find some adverse side effects of CBD, which researchers believe were linked to interaction with the antiepileptic medication that participants were already taking.
Some sources point to CBD as a treatment for dementia, but for now, the evidence just doesn't seem to corroborate the claims. While one 2004 in vitro study seemed to indicate that CBD could be useful in counteracting neuronal cell death occurring in Alzheimer's disease, a 2009 research review examining evidence in favor of these claims found that while there is "increasing evidence that the cannabinoid system may regulate neurodegenerative processes" linked to dementia, the only study in favor of these claims was found to have "insufficient quantitative data to validate the results."
The authors nevertheless called for more randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials to further explore these claims, so it is possible that future studies will show beneficial effects of CBD as linked to dementia and Alzheimer's.
5. Pain and Inflammation
Evidence pointing to the benefits of CBD oil in cases of pain and inflammation "goes back to the first masses of pain studies conducted with cannabis in the 1800s," explains Chris Kilham, Medicine Hunter, and at least anecdotal evidence seems to corroborate this.
"We know that cannabis has long been used for pain," says Kilham. "We know that it ameliorates pain."
When it comes to clinical evidence backing up these claims, however, the data just isn't there yet.
There are, however, two specific types of pain that seem to be improved by CBD.
The first is neuropathic pain linked to multiple sclerosis. A 2006 research review found that cannabinoids, including GW Pharmaceuticals' proprietary CBD/THC buccal spray Sativex, could be effective in treating neuropathic pain in MS, with the caveat that the review was based on a small number of trials and patients. A further 2017 evaluation of Sativex found that it was a "useful option" for the treatment of MS-related spasticity.
Specific studies have also been conducted with regards to CBD's effects on pain and inflammation as connected with intestinal or bowel disease, including a 2011 study in PLoS One that found that CBD could be a "promising therapeutic agent" in the treatment if inflammatory bowel disorders.
In both cases, more research is needed to confirm these beneficial effects.
6. Cardiovascular Health
There has been some research on using CBD for improved cardiovascular health, although evidence of benefits is limited at this time.
Will Kleidon, CEO of Ojai Energetics, a producer of a water-soluble CBD tincture, notes that comprehensive blood work testing for 16 individuals before and after beginning to take the company's proprietary supplement showed that "marked improvements" of between 12 to 15 percent were shown across three distinct inflammatory markers for heart disease: homocysteine, c-reactive protein, and EST. This could point to reduced risk of heart disease, though more research is needed to confirm.
A 2017 research review also found that while "it is possible that beneficial effects of CBD on haemodynamics occurs when the cardiovascular system is abnormally altered, suggesting that CBD may be used as a treatment for various cardiovascular disorders, such as hypertension, myocardial infarction and stroke," significant effects have only been observed in animals at this time. The researchers suggest that further research is needed before more accurate conclusions can be drawn.
7. Antipsychotic Effects
A 2015 systematic review in Schizophrenia Research indicated that CBD could be helpful in the management of psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. According to researchers, the first small-scale clinical studies were promising – both with regards to the effectiveness and the safety of the practice –, but larger randomized clinical trials are necessary to confirm these benefits.
Organic Authority Methodology for Health Claims
Supplement recommendations can be a fickle friend, which is why we at Organic Authority do the heavy lifting for you. Research is still ongoing when it comes to supplements like CBD oil, so here's how we decide which claims to highlight.
We seek out strong or promising research studies, preferably peer-reviewed, large-scale clinical trials, that show that a supplement or product has effects when used therapeutically in humans.
Where studies have only been conducted in vitro or on animals, we make sure to highlight that for you, and we strive to update our guides as new research is conducted and published.
The views expressed in this article are intended to spark conversation and highlight alternative studies and is for information purposes only. We are not here to diagnose or treat any health or medical conditions, nor should this be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, even if it features the advice of health experts, medical practitioners or physicians. When making any lifestyle or health changes, start by consulting your primary care physician.
Is CBD Oil the Natural Cure-All We Want It To Be?
Proponents insist that CBD oil is capable of curing a wide variety of ailments, from anxiety to nerve pain. But is it the miraculous cure-all we’d like it to be?
CBD oil is a natural product that has gained popularity in recent years, thanks, in part, to the legalization of cannabis in many states. You’ve likely seen businesses advertise that they’re now selling CBD oil (and similar products), and heard various claims about what constitutes the “best” CBD oil.
What Is CBD Oil?
Let’s start by explaining what CBD oil is. CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a cannabinoid, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants. CBD oil is a concentrated form of CBD that is separated from other components of cannabis. It’s available in a wide variety of products, ranging from drops, capsules, and edibles to topical creams.
Note that CBD is non-intoxicating; it does not make you high. A different cannabis compound called THC is responsible for the high feeling associated with consuming cannabis.
The Evidence for CBD Oil
What is the evidence for CBD oil as a beneficial remedy?
One of the most common claims of CBD proponents is that CBD oil can relieve anxiety. Generally speaking, there’s evidence to suggest that this is true. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBD oil is shown to reduce stress in animals like rats. Research subjects treated with CBD showed lower signs of behavioral anxiety, as well as fewer physical symptoms of generalized anxiety, like high heart rate.
Research on humans has also been promising. For example, one scientific study found multiple studies supporting the benefits of using CBD when treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder related to anxiety.
Because CBD produces a relaxing effect, some people may find it useful in treating anxiety-induced insomnia.
One study, which examined the sleep patterns of 103 adults, found that CBD use was capable of decreasing anxiety and improving sleep in about 66.7 percent of subjects. However, this rate fluctuated over time, suggesting that the effects of CBD may not be entirely consistent. The research also showed very low risk associated with CBD use. Only three subjects did not tolerate CBD oil well.
CBD has also been claimed to be an effective treatment for depression, but the evidence is sparse.
One review from 2017 suggested that there isn’t currently enough evidence to support CBD as an effective treatment for depression. This review also concluded that CBD may be effective for treating anxiety symptoms. However, it pointed out that many of the largest and best-received studies thus far have lacked rigorous scientific standards, such as the presence of a control group.
Other studies have suggested possible uses for CBD oil in other areas related to psychotherapy. For example, one study from 2016 found that CBD could have antipsychotic effects in some people suffering from schizophrenia. The substance also doesn’t have the same debilitating side effects linked to most other conventional antipsychotic drugs.
There is early supporting evidence that CBD (and other cannabinoids) may reduce tumor growth — at least in animal models. For example, one 2019 review of both in vitro and in vivo studies on pancreatic cancer development found that cannabinoids reduce tumor invasion, slow tumor growth, and in some cases, can even cause death of tumor cells. However, the exact mechanisms responsible for this effect are in debate, and factors like appropriate dosing are not yet clear.
CBD may also improve the uptake or potency of certain cancer treatment drugs. It’s also considered an antiemetic, which can be useful in specific types of cancer treatment.
Seizures and Epilepsy Treatment
For people suffering from severe forms of epilepsy or seizures, CBD may be an effective treatment. In fact, the prescription drug Epidiolex was contains CBD. When taken orally, Epidiolex can reduce the number of seizures suffered by a patient. However, it’s worth noting that the patients in these studies were taking Epidiolex with at least two other epilepsy drugs and were suffering from an extreme form of epilepsy (i.e., Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome).
Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug made from cannabis; researchers are eager to learn more about how and why cannabidiol protects against seizures.
Arthritis Pain and Topical Pain Relief
CBD can also function as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic, according to some studies.
In these applications, CBD can be applied topically, usually as a spray. Anecdotally, sufferers of arthritis and similar forms of chronic pain have found relief when regularly applying CBD. As with many of the other potential applications for CBD, we need more research for a definitive analysis of its effectiveness for pain management.
Tolerance and Side Effects
Additionally, early research shows CBD to be well-tolerated by humans and animals. A review from 2011 suggests that CBD is “non-toxic in non-transformed cells and does not induce changes on food intake, does not induce catalepsy, does not affect physiological parameters (heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature), does not affect gastrointestinal transit and does not alter psychomotor or psychological functions.” This study covered even high doses of up to 1,500 mg of CBD per day.
There is some evidence that there may be long-term side effects of CBD, such as inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism, decreased fertilization rates, and alterations of in vitro cell viability. We need more research to confirm the extent and occurrence rate of these side effects.
Short-term side effects from CBD seem to be rare and limited, but can include diarrhea, fatigue, changes in weight, and changes in appetite. It’s also unknown how and when CBD may interfere with medications and dietary supplements. Thus far, CBD appears to be less habit-forming than substances like alcohol and tobacco but may produce withdrawal symptoms if someone uses it consistently for an extended period of time then suddenly stops.
Caveats and Recommendations
CBD oil appears to have some evidence-backed benefits for humans, with limited side effects. But it’s still something we don’t know a lot about. The FDA does not yet regulate CBD, and warns that there are unanswered questions about its safety. Future studies may reveal important information about its applications for human health.
If you want to start taking CBD oil, consider talking to your doctor first.