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.
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.
What is CBD?
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.
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.
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.
Some people find that cannabis can increase their appetite. Several clinical trials looked at cannabis’s effects on appetite or weight loss in people with cancer. To date, these studies haven’t shown for certain that cannabis can effectively improve appetite. Research into whether or not cannabinoids can help people with cancer deal with loss of appetite hasn’t had clear results.
Nabilone (Cesamet) is a pill that has synthetic cannabinoids. It is approved in Canada to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It’s sometimes given to people with cancer if standard antinausea drugs do not help relieve these symptoms.
Nausea and vomiting
Sativex is a combination of delta-9-THC (Tetranabinex) and cannabidiol (Nabidiolex). It has been approved for use in Canada as a spray that can be applied to the cheek inside the mouth. Savitex may be used to relieve pain from advanced cancer that can’t be relieved with the strongest dose of opioids.
Some clinical trials showed that cannabinoids help reduce pain in some people.
Researchers are also still trying to find out if cannabis or cannabinoids should be used as medicine to treat certain diseases, including cancer. Research into the effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells in vitro and on experimental animals has shown some promise. But this research is still in the very early stages. Much more study is needed before cannabis or cannabinoids can be used as a cancer treatment.