CBD oil and cancer: 9 things to know
BY Cynthia DeMarco
CBD oil (cannabidiol) is everywhere these days. Once available only at novelty or vitamin shops, it’s now also at your local grocery store, pharmacy or even yoga studio.
It comes in many forms: oils that are dropped under the tongue, roll-ons that are applied to the skin and even solutions for vaping. Some producers extract CBD oil and add it into foods to create edible products.
But what is CBD oil exactly, and how does it affect cancer patients? Can it really treat — or even cure — cancer or relieve its symptoms? To separate fact from fiction, we spoke with our Kimberson Tanco, M.D. Here’s what he wants cancer patients to know.
What is CBD oil, and how does it differ from marijuana and hemp?
Marijuana and hemp are both varieties of the cannabis sativa plant. Both contain cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the two most-common, known active ingredients.
The main difference is that hemp has far less THC than a typical marijuana plant. And unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive agent, so there’s less possibility that it will cause the same mental confusion, drowsiness or hallucinations that often come with THC.
Is there any truth to the claims that CBD oil can cure cancer?
Right now, no. There is no evidence that CBD oil can cure cancer.
What, if anything, can CBD oil do to alleviate the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment?
It’s hard to say if CBD oil can alleviate cancer symptoms or cancer treatment side effects, because the studies are pretty mixed and even fewer are standardized.
There have been reports that cannabinoids like THC and CBD may be helpful for nausea and vomiting and anorexia, as well as neuropathy, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Synthetic cannabinoids like dronabinol have been approved for use with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, but have not been shown to be superior to conventional anti-nausea medications.
Have any CBD-oil derived products been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cancer, its symptoms, or the side effects caused by its treatment?
Have any products using CBD-oil been approved by the FDA to treat anything?
Yes. Epidiolex. It was originally approved in 2018 for the treatment of two conditions, both related to epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. But aside from Epidiolex, no CBD product has been approved by the FDA for any other medical purpose.
What are the dangers of using CBD oil?
Quality, cleanliness and regulation are the biggest concerns.
All drugs and dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA. But as long as CBD oil is not marketed as a medicine or a dietary supplement, producers can get around that policy. So right now, CBD oil is very unregulated. That means it’s hard to know how much CBD or THC is really in any given product. Certain hemp CBD products have been found to contain significantly less CBD or more THC than advertised.
In terms of purity, THC and CBD are both extracted from hemp and marijuana using essentially similar processes. But trace amounts of THC could still end up in CBD oil. And if the THC is at a high enough concentration, it could produce the psychoactive effects that THC is known for.
Second, if a lab produces both CBD and THC products, there can be cross-contamination — whether it’s through extraction, handling or packaging.
Third, the plant itself may have higher levels of THC than expected. This could be due to its environment, prolonged flowering periods or cross-contamination and pollination between male and female plants, resulting in offspring with higher THC content. This especially affects hemp plants, which should have less than 0.3% THC levels.
Finally, there have been some reports of people getting infections after using CBD and cannabis products. This is especially concerning for immunocompromised patients, who are already susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
Studies on a certain CBD manufacturer showed its products were contaminated with a chemical known as 5F-ADB, which mimics THC. 5F-ADB is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as illegal, potentially addictive and with no accepted medical use.
Other sorts of substances have been found in CBD products, too, such as dextromethorphan, which is an ingredient in cough medicines. Heavy metals like lead and arsenic, pesticides and mold have also been found in CBD products.
Does CBD oil have any side effects?
CBD oil can adversely affect liver function. In fact, this is on the warning label for Epidiolex.
And in lab studies, CBD has been shown to inhibit certain enzymes responsible for the metabolism of drugs, such as CYP2D6 and CYP3A4. This can affect how drugs work and affect our bodies, either by reducing their efficiency or making them more dangerous. This includes chemotherapy and other medications.
This is very important for cancer patients to understand, as many people think CBD oil is not a medicine. They think of it more as a vitamin or a supplement, so they might not let their doctors know they’re using it. Patients might not realize it can be potentially harmful. So, it’s very important to tell your doctor if you’re using CBD oil.
Is CBD oil even legal?
CBD has a very complex legal status right now.
At the national level, any product of marijuana — including CBD — is still technically illegal when used medically. Although the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp nationally, that’s only permitted if it’s not marketed for medical use or as a dietary supplement. CBD products intended for medical use should undergo an FDA review process.
State laws vary. In Texas, the Compassionate Use Act allows for the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions. Originally only for intractable epilepsy, the law was expanded this year to include cancer and certain neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
But the application of this law is pretty jumbled right now. So, while it may be legal to use CBD in a state like Colorado or Alaska, if an employer follows federal regulations, the standardization and quality of a CBD product matters. Because if there’s even a small percentage of THC in that product, then a drug test might come back positive. And this could result in legal issues for the user.
What’s the most important thing cancer patients should know about CBD oil?
There’s still a lot to learn. So always let your health care team know if you are using CBD oil. That way, we can make sure nothing interacts adversely with your cancer treatments or other medications.
Also, avoid products with health-related claims on their labels. The only product approved by the FDA for its medical value is Epidiolex.
Wondering whether you should use CBD oil to cope with cancer treatment and its side effects? We spoke with Kimberson Tanco, M.D., to separate fact from fiction.
The Role Of Cannabis In The Treatment Of Leukemia
Cannabis has been shown to be effective at killing various forms of cancer cells. Research shows that compounds within the herb may be effective at battling leukemia and other forms of cancer.
Cannabis has been used as a medicinal herb throughout thousands of years of human history. Its illegal status is an extremely recent phenomenon and luckily for thousands of medical patients and recreational users, prohibition appears to be coming to an abrupt end. Scientific analysis is proving that compounds within the plant, such as cannabinoids and terpenes, have powerful ameliorative effects against an entire host of diseases and medical conditions. Although hard to believe, cannabis is also documented as having a positive effect against numerous types of cancer, including leukemia.
Cancer is known as a devastating disease and almost anyone you talk to has had their lives affected by it in some way or another. It was estimated in 2016 that in the United States alone, 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed and that 595,690 people were suspected to die from the disease. These numbers are staggering, with the most common cancers that same year being breast, lung, bladder, and leukemia. Conventional treatments offered to individuals include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. These methods often pose extremely detrimental side effects and clearly have limits when looking at the data.
Emerging alternative therapies and approaches are on the rise, with cannabis gaining a lot of traction in this area. The American government website cancer.gov even states that cannabinoids have displayed antitumor effects by inducing cell death and inhibiting cell growth.
Leukemia, sometimes referred to as blood cancer, is a cancer that affects blood cells. So far, it is stated that the exact cause of the condition is unknown, however, exposure to radiation, certain forms of chemotherapy, smoking, chemicals, and family history have all been named as potential risk factors. It is estimated that a massive 62,130 new cases of leukemia will be diagnosed within the United States in 2017. 24,500 people are expected to die from the disease within the same year.
Leukemia features the malignancy of blood cells. This usually involves the production of abnormal white blood cells. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, make up around 1 percent of total blood, yet play a vital role in the maintenance of health and defence against disease, illness, and infection. White blood cells flow throughout the bloodstream on patrol against unwelcome intruders in the forms of viruses, bacteria, and other malevolent invaders. White blood cells are formed within bone marrow and go on to be stored in the blood as well as lymphatic tissues. Blood cancers such as leukemia can trigger uncontrolled growth of white blood cells, which can result in infection and dangerous bleeding.
Common symptoms of the disease may include pain in the bones or joints, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, tiredness, bleeding, regular infections, and weight loss. There is no known way to prevent the condition and methods such as chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplants are used in attempt to treat the disease. Unfortunately, the side effects of chemotherapy, for example, can be devastating and include fatigue, hair loss, infection, nausea, and anaemia.
CANNABIS AND LEUKEMIA
Scientific literature boasts research into the anticancer effects of cannabinoids and shows a potential for their use in cases of leukemia. A paper  published within the International Journal of Oncology explores the anticancer effects of certain cannabinoids when used with chemotherapy.
The authors of the paper state that cannabinoids have been shown to possess anticancer activity when used alone, although some of them show more potent effects against leukemia cells when combined. For example, the authors mention that THC and CBD displayed more favorable effects when paired together as opposed to being used alone. Furthermore, cannabinoid pairs performed even more effectively when used along with chemotherapy agents. It was noted that using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in a greater induction in the death of cancer cells.
The authors of the text state, “Our results suggest that when certain cannabinoids are paired together, the resulting product can be combined synergistically with common anti-leukaemia drugs allowing the dose of the cytotoxic agents to be dramatically reduced yet still remain efficacious.”
A study  published within the journal BioMed Central Cancer argues that THC has been proven to harbour anti-tumor activity. The researchers note that they have anecdotal evidence that THC may have contributed to disease control in a patient with leukemia. The study was conducted in order to test this hypothesis. The researchers evaluated the effects of Dronabinol (a synthetic version of THC) against leukemia cell lines. An antiproliferative effect occurred. It was found that cell death was mediated via the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. The authors of the paper concluded that, “Our study provides rigorous data to support clinical evaluation of THC as a low-toxic therapy option in a well defined subset of acute leukemia patients.”
THC AND APOPTOSIS
One mechanism by which cannabinoids may kill cancer cells is a process known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is a natural function of the human body that results in the controlled death of cells as a part of an organism’s proper growth and development.
A paper  published within the journal Molecular Cancer Research displays that THC induces apoptosis in leukemia T cells.
A POWERFUL CASE STUDY
The studies above display the powerful effects of cannabinoids against cell lines in a laboratory setting. The next study displays a case study, with a sample size of one person, that demonstrates the potential of cannabinoids against leukemia in a human. A paper  published within the journal Case Reports in Oncology documents a case study involving a 14 year old patient diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. The patient underwent aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. However, all of these methods failed after a period of 34 months. With no conventional options left, the family of the patient started to orally administer cannabis extracts. A rapid dose-dependant correlation was observed.
The authors state that, “Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated and do not produce the generalised toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. The family found promise in an organisation known as Phoenix Tears, led by Rick Simpson who had treated several cancers with hemp oil, an extract from the cannabis plant. Rick worked with [the] family to help them prepare the extract.”
It was noted that during the treatment, cancer cell counts started to drop at some point. The researchers note that the cannabinoids within the extract had antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties. Unfortunately, the patient did pass away, however the authors state that “It must be noted that where our most advanced chemotherapeutic agents had failed to control the blast count and had devastating side effect[s] that ultimately resulted in the death of the patient, the cannabinoid therapy had no toxic side effects and only psychosomatic properties, with an increase in the patient’s vitality.”
THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS AS TREATMENT
It seems promising that the active compounds within the cannabis plant will play an effective role in the future of cancer treatment, whether that means they are used alone as primary therapies or in conjunction with current conventional therapies to enhance their outcomes and reduce adverse side effects.
Scientific data show that compounds within the cannabis plant exhibit cancer fighting properites that might assist in treating leukemia.