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CBD for Cancer: Existing Research & Potential Benefits 

Despite advancements in cancer research and conventional cancer treatments (such as chemo, radiation and surgery), there is a demand for alternative therapies that can improve treatment outcomes and enhance the quality of life for cancer patients. This includes Cannabidiol (CBD), which could help manage symptoms of the disease and side effects of treatment. In this article, we’ll look at what CBD is, what existing scientific research says on the relationship between the two, and how CBD may help the treatment and management of cancer.

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Of over 480 different compounds present in the plant, only around 66 are termed cannabinoids. 

According to Cancer Research UK, research has shown that different cannabinoids can cause cell death, block cell growth, stop the development of blood vessels (which is needed for tumours to grow), reduce inflammation, and reduce the ability of cancers to spread, which could make them useful as a cancer treatment. They continue that some cannabinoids have also helped with sickness and pain, which could benefit the symptoms and side effects of cancer and related treatments. Indeed, in the UK, there are two cannabis-derived products that can be prescribed if you have sickness or vomiting caused by chemotherapy (when other anti-sickness medicines haven’t helped): Nabilone and Sativex

The most well known among these cannabis compounds is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but cannabidiol (CBD) is another important one.

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is one of the compounds found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound and does not induce the “high” or other intoxication symptoms often associated with cannabis. Instead, CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS) and influences its CB1 and CB2 receptors, which can help to regulate several of our cognitive and physical functions, such as pain, mood, appetite and stress. This makes it a promising solution for several conditions and symptoms, such as migraines, seizures, osteoporosis, and depression

There is also growing interest in how it could modulate various factors involved in cancer progression and treatment response. Indeed, as reported in Cannabidiol (CBD) in Cancer Management, CBD has a range of therapeutic actions that demonstrate the potential relevance of CBD to cancer. 

  • analgesic
  • anti-nausea
  • anti-emetic
  • anxiolytic
  • antidepressant
  • anti-psychotic
  • anti-convulsant/anti-epileptic
  • anti-asthmatic immune-modulatory
  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antibiotic, anti-bacterial
  • neuroprotective
  • anti-cancer and anti-tumoral

In addition to this, a report on CBD from the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence at the World Health Organization (WHO) found that CBD does not induce major side effects or physical dependence, does not get you high, and is not associated with abuse potential. In fact, to date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of CBD, and their report found that naturally occurring CBD is safe and well tolerated in humans. CBD is also legal to purchase in the UK as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC. 

Various preclinical studies have demonstrated that CBD could have anti-cancer effects in relation to both the treatment and management of cancer and related symptoms.

  • In a mice model of melanoma, CBD treatment was associated with a significant reduction in tumour size compared with placebo, and increased survival rate.

  • Preclinical data ‘strongly supports’ the notion that non-psychoactive plant-derived CBs can act as direct inhibitors of tumour progression, as well as enhance the activity of first-line therapies.

  • Glioma cell research demonstrates CBD alone or in conjunction with other agents can induce cell death, inhibit cell migration and invasion, reduce size of tumours, reduce vascularisation, and induce tumour regression and increase survival. 

  • Leukaemia cell research found that CBD reduced their ability to survive and caused them to undergo apoptosis (cell death). When they tested this in living organisms, they saw that CBD treatment decreased the overall tumour size and increased the number of tumours undergoing apoptosis.

  • 2014 study in experimental models of colon cancer in vivo suggests that CBD may inhibit the spread of colorectal cancer cells.

  • In a 2023 study using mice with modified human glioblastoma cells, inhaled CBD limited tumour growth and enhanced the immune response against cancer cells.

More research is needed to investigate and understand the full effects of CBD on cancer. 

There are many related signs and symptoms endured by people living with cancer, due to the cancer itself and/or its treatment. This includes stress, anxiety and depression, nausea and vomiting, pain, neuropathy, fatigue and poor sleep. In conjunction with conventional treatment, CBD may be useful for both treating and managing cancer and related symptoms.

Oxidative stress can contribute to cancer initiation and progression. As CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it could help to reduce the physical effects of stress, and play a part in preventing stress-related conditions. Thus, CBD’s antioxidant properties could reduce oxidative damage, and potentially mitigate cancer-associated oxidative stress.

Chronic inflammation plays a pivotal role in cancer development and progression by promoting tumour growth, angiogenesis, and metastasis. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have been well-documented in preclinical studies, suggesting its potential role in inflammation-driven carcinogenesis (cancer formation).

Apoptosis, or cell death, is crucial for eliminating damaged cells, including cancer cells. One study found that CBD can induce apoptosis by activating caspases (enzymes that play a key role in apoptosis) and triggering the release of certain molecules and other caspase enzymes involved in the cell death process. When researchers exposed normal brain cells to CBD under the same conditions, they didn’t see the same effects, which suggests that CBD is selectively targeting the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone.

This is supported by a later 2017 study in which CBD, alongside radiation, made glioblastoma cells more sensitive to radiation and increase their chances of dying (cell death).

Schematic diagram of different mechanisms/signalling pathways of cannabinoids affecting autophagy and apoptosi.

 Schematic diagram of different mechanisms/signalling pathways of cannabinoids affecting autophagy and apoptosis, via Cannabidiol regulates apoptosis and autophagy in inflammation and cancer: A review.

CBD has been reported to inhibit angiogenesis by multiple mechanisms. Its dual effect on both tumour and endothelial cells supports the hypothesis that CBD has potential as an effective agent in cancer therapy. Indeed, one study found that CBD inhibited angiogenesis related to the proliferation of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting occurs in approximately 29% of patients. While traditional medication can treat vomiting, anti-nausea medicine isn’t as effective. CBD, on the other hand, has been linked to nausea and vomiting relief in various animal studies. One 2016 study found that CBD is a highly effective antinausea treatment without producing sedation or psychoactive effects, which means it could improve the quality of life of patients undergoing cancer treatment by reducing the side effects of nausea and anticipatory nausea when it develops.

Cancer-related pain is another common symptom in cancer patients. CBD has proven analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, which could help patients to manage pain without relying on opiods. For example, in an open-label follow-up study of 43 patients experiencing inadequate analgesia despite chronic opioid use, patients using a combination of THC and CBD showed improvements in pain, fatigue and insomnia. Patients taking THC/CBD also needed significantly fewer doses of breakthrough pain medication in comparison with placebo. 

Anxiety and depression often co-exist in cancer patients. Preclinical and clinical evidence indicates that CBD has anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects which could help to reduce stress, depression and anxiety-like behaviours. Indeed, of 387 current or past-CBD users, 42.6% use CBD for anxiety and 37% use CBD for stress. Of those 42.6%, 86.5% responded that they felt less anxious. And for those using CBD for stress, 92.2% responded that they felt less stressed. 

Lack of sleep is common in newly diagnosed, recently treated and post-treatment cancer patients. CBD has been linked to longer and “better” sleep, due to its relaxing and sometimes sedating effects. 

In a 2022 study on cannabidiol as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain, CBD use was associated with improvements in pain (83%), physical function (66%), and sleep quality (66%).

In conclusion, CBD holds significant promise as a therapeutic agent for cancer, offering a multifaceted approach to symptom management, tumour suppression, and quality of life improvement. Preclinical studies support CBD’s anti-cancer effects through various mechanisms, but clinical trials are required to demonstrate its safety and tolerability in cancer patients.

If you’re considering using CBD to manage cancer symptoms, it is essential to talk to your doctor first about the potential benefits and risks of CBD, what to look for, and where to purchase it. If you’re currently being treated for cancer, keep in mind that many substances can interact with other therapies, including CBD.

  • Medications: CBD has the potential to interact with certain medications, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking CBD.

  • Type of CBD: Broad-spectrum CBD is a great option for those who want to experience the effects of CBD without consuming THC, the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant. Clinical reports suggest that broad or full-spectrum CBD may have a better effect due to the number of cannabinoids and other plant compounds they contain that work together, otherwise known as the entourage effect

  • Dosage: Finding the right dose and administration method can be a trial-and-error process as results can vary significantly from person to person. In general, you should start with a low dose and gradually increase it while monitoring its effects.

  • Source and Quality: Choose CBD derived from organically grown hemp, as this ensures minimal exposure to harmful chemicals. You should also look for third-party laboratory reports to verify how pure and potent your product is, and to ensure there are no contaminants.

  • Individual Variability: The effectiveness of CBD may vary from person to person; what works for one individual may not work for another.

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Weight of Pet Regular Dosage Strong Dosage
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