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.
Studies to answer this question are underway. Some scientists are studying whether CBD could relieve some of the side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as pain, insomnia, anxiety, or nausea. Other scientists are studying whether CBD could potentially slow or stop the growth of cancer.
Yet there’s very little research around CBD and its use in treating people with cancer. Here’s what to know about what CBD is and what science currently shows about whether it’s safe and effective for people with cancer to use.
Can CBD help people with cancer?
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are trials looking at whether Sativex can help with cancer pain that has not responded to other painkillers.
CBD is a cannabinoid that may relieve pain, lower inflammation and decrease anxiety without the psychoactive ‘high’ effect of THC.
Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:
A Cochrane review in 2015 looked at all the research available looking into cannabis based medicine as a treatment for nausea and sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer. It reported that many of the studies were too small or not well run to be able to say how well these medicines work. They say that they may be useful if all other medicines are not working.
Scientists also discovered that cannabinoids can:
Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK. This means that it is illegal to have it, sell it or buy it.
A drug called dexanabinol which is a man made form of a chemical similar to that found in cannabis has been trialled in a phase 1 trial. This is an early trial that tries to work out whether or not the drug works in humans, what the correct dose is and what the side effects might be. The results are not available yet. You can read about the trial on our clinical trials database.
This is difficult to answer, as research into cannabis and the chemicals in cannabis is still in its infancy. Most of the research so far has involved work in cells and mice. THC and CBD are two of the main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
We don’t know yet whether cannabis, or any of the chemicals in cannabis, are useful to treat cancer. But it’s an important topic to discuss. And because we believe in the power of research, we dug into the science to answer some of the top questions you might have on cannabis and its effect on cancer.
There is some evidence that CBD oil could be effective against some rare childhood epilepsies. But again, more data is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions. Studies also show that CBD oil could be beneficial for managing anxiety and insomnia in some people, and early research also suggests a possible use of CBD for the treatment of certain types of pain.
Does CBD oil offer any medical benefits?
Some cannabinoids inhibit the growth of tumour cells in test tubes and mice, but others encourage growth. Human studies are still small and hard to come by.
The problem with these stories is that it’s difficult to know whether you have all of the facts. It’s impossible to make any kind of judgement without knowing about the type of cancer, other treatment and the person’s medical history.
Walking along your local high street, you’ve probably noticed shops selling CBD oil, along with all sorts of health claims – including the possibility that it could even be used to combat cancer. But could this be true? Could cannabis really cure cancer? We asked our experts to delve into the research.
One study of cannabis users found they had a lower risk of bladder cancer, but their risk of developing prostate cancer increased.