Does CBD Oil Help Cancer Patients?
For thousands of years, humans have been putting the healing power of cannabinoids to work, both treating disease and keeping entire populations healthy. There exists plenty of anecdotal evidence through the ages pointing to the effectiveness of cannabinoids in disease treatment and prevention. Only in the past century has cannabis been demonized and prohibited. And, sadly, the last 100 years is when most of the progress on medicine has been made. During that time, cannabinoids—such as CBD—have mostly been left out of the picture due to federal prohibition.
It wasn’t until the late 60’s and early 70’s—about the same time marijuana was being classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act—that advocates launched a revival of interest in cannabis as medicine, claiming that it could be used to treat everything from PTSD to cancer. Since then, it’s been a long, slow climb for researchers who seek to study the effects of CBD oil on human health.
And while restrictions have been loosening on industrial hemp—the non-buzz-inducing cousin of marijuana from which CBD oil is commonly extracted—there still seems to be quite a bit of confusion over whether or not CBD oil is actually legal. So, as you can imagine, the red tape involved in studying a controlled substance makes research difficult—especially when it comes to living, breathing, patients.
But progress is being made. Over the years there have been both preclinical animal studies and human studies into CBD’s effects on cancer as well as its effects on the symptoms of the disease and on the side effects of medication.
The National Cancer Institute On CBD
For decades, federal government agencies have been hesitant in recognize the medicinal properties of CBD oil. However, in 2017, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, finally acknowledged the benefits of cannabinoids as a “treatment for people with cancer-related symptoms caused by the disease itself or its treatment.”
NCI goes on to state that, “the potential benefits of medicinal [cannabinoids] for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep… CBD, in particular, is thought to have significant analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic activity without the psychoactive effect (high) of delta-9-THC.”
According to the NCI, preclinical studies demonstrate the efficacy of cannabinoids to inhibit tumor growth by protecting healthy cells while killing cancer cells and obstructing the growth of cells and blood vessels needed for tumors to grow.
- In a National Institute of Health study published in 2011, entitled, Cell Death & Differentiation, researchers demonstrated that cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth.
- A study published in February 2015 found rates of bladder cancer are 45% lower in cannabis users, compared to those who do not use it.
The National Cancer Institute also points out that CBD has been shown to increase the uptake of traditional anti-cancer drugs to improve their efficacy for inducing apoptosis of cancer cells.
The Latest Studies on CBD and Cancer
Now let’s take a look at the current state of affairs and see what progress has been made in studying CBD’s effectiveness as a treatment for cancer.
Although there are no ongoing human trials of CBD oil as a treatment for cancer, its effects on the disease’s symptoms and the side effects of treatment have been carried out in humans. In some of these studies, CBD oil has shown promise at treating the nausea and vomiting that come with radiation and chemotherapy. It has also been shown to provide pain relief and help with depression, anxiety, and sleep.
Studies have also been done to assess CBD’s effects on animal models involved in controlling pain, depression, and anxiety—three common issues with cancer patients.
Let’s take a look at some of the latest research studies on CBD’s effects on particular types of cancer.
CBD Prevents Colorectal Cancer
A study published January 1, 2018 by Austrian scientists entitled, “G protein-coupled receptor GPR55 promotes colorectal cancer and has opposing effects to cannabinoid receptor 1,” determined that CBD oil might protect against colorectal cancer by blocking GPR55 activity and suppressing tumor growth. Additionally, CBD was shown to protect against the development of tolerance to THC’s effects on CB1 receptors.
Here’s what researchers had to say about this study:
The putative cannabinoid receptor GPR55 has been shown to play a tumor-promoting role in various cancers, and is involved in many physiological and pathological processes of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1 ) has been reported to suppress intestinal tumor growth, the role of GPR55 in the development of GI cancers is unclear. We, therefore, aimed at elucidating the role of GPR55 in colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer worldwide. … By employing the experimental CRC models to CB1 knockout and CB1/GPR55 double knockout mice, we can further show that GPR55 plays an opposing role to CB1… Collectively, our data suggest that GPR55 and CB1 play differential roles in colon carcinogenesis where the former seems to act as oncogene and the latter as tumor suppressor.
CBD Kills Endometrial Cancer
In another cancer-related study, published in February of 2018, entitled “Cannabinoid-induced cell death in endometrial cancer cells: involvement of TRPV1 receptors in apoptosis,” researchers in Portugal investigated the effects of CBD on endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus). It was reported that CBD caused cancerous cells to die, while THC had no effect.
Here’s what researchers in this study had to say:
Among a variety of phytocannabinoids, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most promising therapeutic compounds. Besides the well-known palliative effects in cancer patients, cannabinoids have been shown to inhibit in vitro growth of tumor cells. Likewise, the major endocannabinoids (eCBs), anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), induce tumor cell death. The purpose of the present study was to characterize cannabinoid elements and evaluate the effect of cannabinoids in endometrial cancer cell viability… We also examined the effects and the underlying mechanisms induced by eCBs and phytocannabinoids in endometrial cancer cell viability… We observed that at concentrations higher than 5 μM, eCBs and CBD induced a significant reduction in cell viability in both Ishikawa and Hec50co cells, whereas THC did not cause any effect… These data indicate that cannabinoids modulate endometrial cancer cell death. Selective targeting of TPRV1 by AEA, CBD, or other stable analogues may be an attractive research area for the treatment of estrogen-dependent endometrial carcinoma. Our data further support the evaluation of CBD and CBD-rich extracts for the potential treatment of endometrial cancer, particularly, that has become non-responsive to common therapies.
CBD Slows Progression of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States after skin cancer. If breast cancer metastasizes and spreads throughout the body it can become very aggressive and deadly. Research suggests that CBD oil may inhibit metastasis in breast cancer cells.
In 2014, a report published by researchers from the California Pacific Medical Research Center entitled, “Targeting multiple cannabinoid anti‐tumour pathways with a resorcinol derivative leads to inhibition of advanced stages of breast cancer,” suggested that CBD may inhibit the Id-1 and Akt genes. These genes have been known to play a role in the growth and spread of breast tumors.
In an earlier report published in 2012 entitled, “Cannabinoids: A new hope for breast cancer therapy?,” researchers claimed that CBD had an “anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic, anti-migratory and anti-invasive actions.” In layman’s terms, this means that CBD reduced tumor sizes and encouraged the cancerous cells to stop growing and die without harming healthy cells. CBD also stopped the spread of the tumors.
Shuso Takeda of Hokuriku University was the first to discover that CBDA may inhibit the spread of highly invasive human breast cancer cells. CBDA is the acidic precursor of cannabidiol (CBD). When CBDA is heated, it is converted into CBD.
In Takeda’s most recent study, published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, with the lengthy title of “Cannabidiolic acid-mediated selective down-regulation of c-fos in highly aggressive breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells: possible involvement of its down-regulation in the abrogation of aggressiveness,” suggests that cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) may also be effective at preventing the spread of breast cancer.
In this study, researchers identified CBDA as an “inhibitor of the migration of MDA-MB-231 cells, a widely used human breast cancer cell line in cancer biology, due to its highly aggressive nature.”
The Potential Role of CBD and the GRP55 Receptor In Preventing Cancer
That final piece of information we’ll leave you with is a hint at how CBD may work to prevent cancer from occurring in the first place.
Recent research suggests that a receptor known as G-protein coupled receptor 55—or GPR55—may play a major role in the development of cancer. The activation of GPR55 is believed to have pro-tumor effect, while blocking of GPR55 activity has been shown to provide anti-tumor effects in colorectal cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and brain cancer.
GPR55 was first identified in 1999, but its functions were unclear. However, a study from 2007 entitled, “The orphan receptor GPR55 is a novel cannabinoid receptor,” showed while THC activates GPR55, CBD actually blocks GPR55 activity, and may help to prevent the development of cancerous cells.
The “Hemp Bill” Could Greatly Advance CBD Research
While researchers still need to learn more about CBD and its potential anti-cancer properties, so far the evidence that CBD may be a powerful tool in the prevention and treatment of cancer seems quite promising. But research into CBD’s medicinal benefits has been stunted by its Schedule I classification.
However, a recent piece of legislation was introduced which may greatly loosen the federal government’s clamp on CBD research. That legislation, which would legalize hemp and CBD, is now getting fast-tracked through the Senate.
The bill, known as the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) If passed it will remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. (By the time you are reading this it may even have passed.)
The bill would also offer researchers the ability to apply for Agriculture Department grants to help them fund additional research into hemp’s medicinal benefits and specifically those provided by CBD.
Hopes are high that now is the time for hemp to return to its rightful status as a legal agricultural crop, and for research into CBD’s medicinal benefits to begin to advance in leaps and bounds.