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.
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.
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.
Can CBD help people with cancer?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some people claim that cannabis can help relieve long-term (chronic) or severe pain. Research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about the effectiveness of cannabis to relieve pain.
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.
Find out more about pain and opioids.
Nausea and vomiting
Cannabis comes from the cannabis plant. The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is a type of cannabinoid. There are many other types of cannabinoids in cannabis. Cannabinoids are chemicals that act on certain receptors on cells in our body, especially cells in the central nervous system.
Medical cannabis is legal in Canada, and recreational cannabis is legalized as of October 2018. The Canadian government allows seriously ill people access to cannabis for medical reasons. This is commonly called medical cannabis.
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.
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.