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.
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.
What is CBD?
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.
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 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.
CBD works by interacting with this system, which means it can help reduce side effects of breast cancer treatment like pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.
Before she had a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation for breast cancer in 2015, Mathias Schmucki says, she wouldn’t have put much stock in something like CBD (though she would have supported her patients’ choice to use it). But ibuprofen wasn’t relieving the itchy, scratchy, painful sensations she was having. She was so uncomfortable, “I was open to anything.” She knew that she didn’t need or want the mind-altering effects THC can create, so she decided to try CBD oil.
Defining the Terms
Mathias Schmucki still takes CBD oil orally. She also uses a topical CBD oil for the skin on her radiation-treated side to help with the dryness and discomfort, plus a CBD extract in a coconut-oil-based suspension as a personal lubricant for intercourse. “A lot of women with breast cancer experience sexual side effects because one of the mainstays of treatment is anti-estrogen,” she explains.
Keep this in mind, too: “Everyone reacts differently to cannabis products, so don’t feel discouraged if your symptoms aren’t reduced with the first product you try,” Weiss says. “You may need to test different products to find what’s best for you, including the delivery method and dosage.” She suggests starting low and slow, making changes as you go.
Weiss and Mathias Schmucki agree that it’s critical to talk to your doctor before you use CBD, especially if you’re in active treatment for breast cancer. For one thing, you need to make sure it’s a safe option for you.
Some people believe that cannabis can help control or relieve some of the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatments. But research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about the effectiveness of smoking cannabis. Research does show that some cannabinoids can help with some symptoms and side effects, and drugs containing cannabinoids have been developed to treat pain, nausea and vomiting.
Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations give people with cancer the option to use cannabis for medical purposes to help manage their symptoms and side effects. Talk to your healthcare team about the benefits and risks of using medical cannabis. They can help you decide if it is right for you.
Several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both. These are side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
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 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.