Could CBD Treat Cancer? Here’s What the Science Has to Say

Could CBD Treat Cancer? Here’s What the Science Has to Say

Among the many diseases that cannabidiol (CBD) shows promise as an effective treatment, cancer is probably one of the most far-reaching. There are two ways in which CBD can help cancer patients: First, it slows and in some cases even stops the growth of cancerous cells (treatment and prevention); and second, it helps to deal with the symptoms of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy (symptom management).

There have been many studies focussing on CBD for the treatment of various cancers. And although researchers are still exploring the exact mechanisms with regard to CBD’s effects on cancerous cells, the results are promising. 

Here we explore the effects of CBD on cancer and how it may help ease the side effects of cancer treatments.

CBD for Treatment and Prevention

Although most experiments on CBD and cancer concentrates on laboratory and animal experiments, some human clinical trials exist. From this body of research, scientists believe that CBD could help treat various types of cancer via the following mechanisms:

1. Apoptosis and Necrosis (Cell Death)

Researchers postulate that the main reason CBD may help treat cancer is because it has the ability to kill tumor cells through two mechanisms: cell apoptosis and cell necrosis. In a 2011 study, scientists found that CBD may work similarly to chemotherapy through a complex interplay between tumor cell death and the destruction of the tumor cells in CBD-treated breast cancer cells. Similarly, in a 2014 review, scientists found that in both in-vitro (outside the body) and in-vivo (inside the body) studies, CBD reduces the viability of tumor cells by “programming” these cells to kill themselves off (apoptosis), while at the same time causing a toxic environment that leads to traumatic cell death (necrosis). 

2. Autophagy (Cell Disposal)

Another way CBD may help treat cancer is by speeding up the disposal of dead tumor cells via a process known as autophagy. CBD seems to increase an activator called caspase-3 that moderates cell death and helps with the breakdown of the dead cancer cells. Simply put, the CBD may not only kill cancer cells, but it may also help with the dismantling of the dead cells and make their elimination from the body easier. 

3. Antimetastatic Effects

Cell division is an important mechanism, helping to renew and restore our bodies. However, when it comes to tumors, this mechanism is what makes tumors grow and spread to other tissues. Scientists have long tried to target cell division (amitosis) of cancer cells as a therapy to treat cancer. They have now shown that CBD has potential antiproliferative effects, halting the cancer cells ability to metastasize . Similarly, in another study, scientists found that CBD also targets GPR12, a protein that may be involved with pathological conditions such as metastatic cancers. 

4. Angiogenesis

CBD may also reduce tumor size by starving tumors of their blood supply through a process known as angiogenesis. Several studies have now shown that CBD has the ability to inhibit the growth and migration of tumor cells while simultaneously killing them off through various pro-angiogenic signals. Moreover, unlike other types of aggressive cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, CBD targets only cancer cells and does not appear to affect normal cells.

5. Decreasing LD-1 expression

CBD has also been shown to significantly decrease Id-1 expression, the gene thought to be a key regulator of the metastatic potential of several types of cancers. This implies that CBD not only helps to potentially prevent and treat cancer, but that it can particularly help control aggressive tumors through the down-regulation of aggressive tumor growth.

CBD for Symptom Management

For many cancer patients, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be even more debilitating than the disease itself. Side effects of these treatments include nerve and muscle pain and inflammation, nausea and vomiting as well as mood changes. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that CBD could help complement cancer treatment in several ways.

1. Pain and Inflammation

For many patients, one major issue is dealing with the pain of both cancer and its treatment. Tumors can put pressure on internal organs, cause nerve injury and result in inflammation that causes pain. Similarly, because of the way conventional cancer treatments affect both cancer and healthy living cells, these can also cause severe pain and inflammation. CBD has been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide widespread pain relief in cancer patients without diminishing nervous system function nor chemotherapy efficacy.

2. Mood

Many cancer patients often become stressed, anxious and depressed. Not only are cancer patients facing a potentially life-threatening situation, but they also have to deal with the fallout their disease has on their day-to-day lives, the lives of those around them, as well as the debilitating symptoms and side effects. CBD is believed to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

3. Increase Effectiveness of Chemotherapy

Research into CBD and cancer indicates that it may be a complementary therapy that not only help patients cope with symptoms and side effects, but it does this without interfering with the efficacy of other medical treatments. However, a recent study found that, especially for chemotherapy-resistant glioblastomas, CBD can actually increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. In a similar study on triple negative breast cancer (TNBC)—an aggressive disease with limited therapeutic options—researchers showed that CBD activated TRPV2-increased chemotherapy drug uptake and potentiated toxic activity in these breast cancer cells.

Using CBD for cancer is generally not accepted as an alternative treatment option for cancer, however, the limited research does show positive results for the therapeutic abilities of CBD for cancer. As with any other treatment, it’s crucial to consult your oncologist or treating physician before starting CBD. 

It’s also important to use high-quality CBD—and do so regularly—to experience maximum potential benefit. Similarly, because of the cumulative effect of other cannabinoids (known as the entourage effect), a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD product could be beneficial. Serving guidelines have not been studied specifically, scientists have found that 1 mg / kg of body weight per day of CBD could be effective for chemopreventive effects. If relief is not felt at this serving, the amount of CBD can be increased by 10 mg per day until desired effects are achieved.

Lieze Boshoff

Lieze Boshoff (B.Psych, M.Sc (HCN)), is the founder of LBC3 Marketing, a leading content marketing and copywriting consultancy. Lieze has been working exclusively in the cannabis industry for three years, helping her clients get strategic about their content, marketing and copywriting goals. Lieze’s interest in medical cannabis and CBD got sparked when her mother sought a wholistic approach to treating her cancer. Seeing how effective this strategy was, but also the stigma surrounding it, Lieze set out to educate people about medical cannabis and CBD through her marketing and consulting work.

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