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A 2018 Perspective: CBD Oil in the Treatment of Cancer

A 2018 Perspective: CBD Oil in the Treatment of Cancer

by Karuna Chandra RockwellNovember 5, 2018

A 2018 Perspective: CBD Oil in the Treatment of Cancer

It is likely that cancer has touched your life, either personally or through a friend or relative. Cancer places a huge burden on society in the US and globally with about 38.4% of people being diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. In 2018 in the US, more than 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 600 thousand people will die from the disease (“Cancer Statistics,” 2018). Cancer treatment research is important for the well-being of our society. With the personal connections in mind, it is heartening to look at the current research, within the last 6 years, of cannabidiol (CBD) in the treatment of the major types of cancer.

First, it is important to understand what CBD is in order to understand the role it plays in cancer treatment. CBD is a type of cannabinoid. Specifically, it is a phytocannabinoid, meaning plant derived. It is obtained from Cannabis sativa (Kosgodage et al., 2018), which has over 100 identified phytocannabinoids. For context, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid that is most familiar to people. You know, it’s the one that gets you high.

Our bodies respond to these cannabinoids because we have a system of cannabinoid receptors designed to respond to the endocannabinoids synthesized by our bodies. This endocannabinoid system, discovered in the early 90s, plays an important role in many physiological functions (“What is the Difference,” 2018). These functions are significant in how cancer cells invade the body, and thus this is where CBD intersects with cancer cells and is able to inhibit how cancer grows and spreads.

A New Role for Cannabinoids and Specifically CBD

You have probably heard of cannabinoids in relation cancer. (An image of a Grandma eating medical marijuana gummies may come to mind.) Cannabinoids have been long accepted as useful in the management of the symptoms related to cancer and its treatment: weakness, loss of appetite and weight, nausea, vomiting, and pain. However, they have not been regarded as a primary treatment of the disease itself (Kenyon, Liu, & Dalgleish, 2018). When the understanding of endocannabinoid system and the cloning of specific cannabinoid receptors became further developed, there was a revitalized interest in cannabinoids and their anticarcinogenic (cancer defeating) properties (Massi, Solinas, Cinquina, & Parolaro, 2012).

Plants like hemp have the highest concentration of the cannabinoids CBD and THC. The psychoactive and psychotropic properties of THC have limited its clinical effectiveness, as treatment doses have to be restricted. THC has also demonstrated immune depressant effects (Solinas et al., 2012). CBD, on the other hand, does not have these drawbacks. Due to how CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors, it is not psychoactive or psychotropic, and it does not have immune depressant effects. With a nod from The World Health Organization, they state that CBD does not have abuse potential and causes no harm. For this reason and its abundance, making up about 40% of the hemp plant, CBD is an excellent choice for research. Thus, its use has significantly increased (Kenyon et al., 2018).

Objective Clinical Evidence is Present

The research science of cancer treatment is complex, so this article aims to break it down into digestible information. You may still need to put on your nerd glasses. The results of the research using CBD in cancer treatment have been clearly positive. These results have been demonstrated with many types of cancer such as breast, brain, prostate, lung, skin, cervical, testicular, leukemia, thyroid, and colon. The results have been consistently shown both in lab studies and with living subjects (Kenyon et al., 2018).

Massi, Solinas, Cinquina, & Parolaro (2012) did a thorough research review of CBD in the treatment of several cancers that are highly aggressive, do not respond well to radiation or chemotherapy, and have a high death rate. They specifically discussed breast, lung, glioma (brain), leukemia/lymphoma, thyroid, and colon cancers. Their findings stated that CBD is highly specialized and complex in how it interacts with cancer cells. It inhibits several processes related to cancer growth and spread, and it only affects the pathways related to cancer development without affecting normal cells. Furthermore, it achieves these effects with low doses, which is good for prolonged treatment. CBD also heightened the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy drugs, so there is a potential to reduce the doses of those toxic treatments. CBD is kicking butt and taking names!

There was an interesting note made by the researchers when discussing leukemia/lymphoma research. Due to the nature of these types of cancer that have an immune origin, CBD might be particularly effective in their treatment. The cancer cells of these types have more of the certain receptors that CBD inhibits, and therefore CBD will have an increased impact on the processes of growth in these types of cancer cells (Massi et al., 2012).

CBD and The Most Common Cancer Type

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer (“Common Cancer Types,” 2018), and certain subtypes of breast cancer, like triple negative breast cancer, are very aggressive and have low survival rates. These subtypes of breast cancer generally respond poorly to treatment, tend to develop resistance to chemotherapy quickly, and move rapidly into other tissues. It often becomes the case that patients reach a point where they have no other treatment options available. In the interest of “saving second base,” it’s a good thing there is a lot of positive research on CBD in the treatment of breast cancer.

The results of one study reviewed for this article indicated that CBD is highly effective in the treatment of breast cancer, more than other phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. CBD demonstrated an ability to regulate gene expression that reduced tumor aggressiveness and encouraged the death of tumor cells. CBD encourages a certain kind of cell death called apoptosis, which is the preferred cell death because it does not result in inflammation, meaning no harmful substances were release into the body system (Massi et al., 2012).

Another study of breast cancer revealed new information on the exact processes CBD inhibits, specifically targeting the invasion of cancer cells into other tissues and the growth of secondary tumors (Elbaz et al., 2015). Remarkably, these results were achievable with very low doses of CBD. It became evident that CBD achieves this through changing the microenvironment of the tumor. The tumor microenvironment is a major factor in tumor growth and how it responds to cancer treatments. CBD modified this microenvironment in such a way that the cancer cells were not able to create new blood cells or move into other tissues. It resulted in the tumors ceasing their growth and prevented the spread of cancer cells into other tissues. Remarkably, the processes discovered in this study relate directly to processes seen in lung cancer which indicates that CBD would have the same result with lung cancer in preventing the tumor growth and stopping the cancer from metastasizing (Elbaz et al., 2015).

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty

A lot of the research is aimed at breaking down the exact cellular processes that make CBD so effective in decreasing tumor growth and inhibiting the spread of cancer into other tissues.

One study looked specifically at exosomes and microvesicles (EMV), which are vesicles (small fluid-filled sacs) used in the communication between cells. It has been noted that EMV release increases in the presence of cancerous cells, and this is correlated with resistance to chemotherapy as well as the active growth of tumors. CBD is able to inhibit EMV release, and therefore, it sensitizes cancer cells to chemotherapy and reduces tumor growth. The study specifically looked at prostate, liver, and breast cancer and observed a significant reduction of the release of EMV (Kosgodage et al., 2018). It is modifications like this that make CDB effective in increasing anticancer activity in tumor cells (Kenyon et al., 2018). This also means that there are possibilities for research into CBD as a treatment for other diseases that use EMV in their growth (Kosgodage et al., 2018).

Another study looked at how CBD inhibits a process called angiogenesis, which is the growth of new blood cells from existing ones. This is a key factor in cancer tumor growth and its ability to spread into other tissues, so it is a key focus of research in cancer treatment. This type of growth of new blood cells has many complex steps, and in this study, CBD was seen to inhibit this process at many key points (Solinas et al., 2012). Take that, cancer!

What This Looks Like in Real Life

A large study followed 119 cancer patients with solid tumors for over four years. In this time, 92% of the cases showed a reduction in tumor cells or tumor size. The researchers describe the result in one patient:

The most impressive case was a five-year-old male patient with an anaplastic ependymoma, a very rare brain tumor. The patient had had all standard treatments, surgery on two occasions followed by chemotherapy, and conformal photon radiotherapy. No further treatment options were available to him when treatment on CBD started in February 2016. A scan carried out in December 2016 showed that tumor volume had decreased by ~60%. Further scans, carried out since December 2016, continued to show stable disease. CBD was the only treatment (Kenyon et al., 2018).

This case study stands out when you stop to picture this five-year-old boy facing such a deadly brain tumor at such a young age and the parents who had to go through that horrendous ordeal with their child. Imagine the relief they must have felt to have had the tumor grow so much smaller in 10 months.

“Too Long; Didn’t Read” Summary of the Results

CBD both inhibits cell growth and encourages cell death at various points in cell function. This causes cancer tumors to stop growing and to decrease in size. This is obviously important when treating cancer. CBD also interferes with mechanisms that allow cancer cells to migrate and invade other tissues. This tendency of cancer cells is one of the most damaging and life-threatening features (Massi et al., 2012), so it is significant that CBD inhibits many aspects of this process. As well, CBD increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy by sensitizing the cells to the chemotherapy drugs (Kosgodage et al., 2018). It does all of this with low doses. All of these properties of CBD in relation to cancer treatment are extremely encouraging.

No Side Effects!

Another truly miraculous aspect of CDB as a treatment is the lack of side effects. Medication and medical treatments always have their downsides. Doctors often have to weigh the benefit of the treatment against the cost of the side effects. Chemotherapy is toxic. It attacks all cells, healthy and malignant, without discrimination. In the research covered for this article, multiple statements by the researchers underline the fact that CBD is safe. Its effects do not influence health cells; it only targets cancer tumor cells (Massi et al., 2012). One researcher states, “We were unable to define a maximum tolerated dose for CBD, as there was a complete absence of side effects” (Kenyon et al., 2018). This is important not only because of the absence of side effects, but because this freedom from side effects means that there is no need to limit dosage or length of treatment, which potentially results in a more thorough eradication of the cancer cells.

A New Future

The research has exciting results, and one cannot help but think of the number of lives impacted. There is hope for those who have highly aggressive cancers, who have cancers that do not respond favorably to treatments, and who have tried all their options. The research has demonstrated that CBD is highly effective with aggressive, invasive, and hard to treat cancers. An effective treatment without side effects will alter the landscape of cancer treatment. When thinking about the presence of cancer and how it touches our lives, it is clear that there is a new future ahead of us.

Reference List

Cancer Statistics was originally published by the National Cancer Institute. (2018, April 27). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from

Common Cancer Types was originally published by the National Cancer Institute. (2018, February 26). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from

Elbaz M., Nasser M.W., Ravi J., et al. Modulation of the tumor microenvironment and inhibition of EGF/EGFR pathway: novel anti-tumor mechanisms of Cannabidiol in breast cancer. Mol Oncol. 2015; 9(4): 906-19.

Kenyon, J., Liu, W., & Dalgleish, A. (2018). Report of Objective Clinical Responses of Cancer Patients to Pharmaceutical-grade Synthetic Cannabidiol. International Institute of Anticancer Research, 38(10), 5831-5835, 5831-5835. doi:10.21873/anticanres.12924

Kosgodage U.S., Mould R., Henley A.B., et al. Cannabidiol (CBD) Is a Novel Inhibitor for Exosome and Microvesicle (EMV) Release in Cancer. Front Pharmacol. 2018; 9:889. Published 2018 Aug 13. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00889

Massi P., Solinas M., Cinquina V., Parolaro D. Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012; 75(2): 303-12.

Solinas M., Massi P., Cantelmo A.R., et al. Cannabidiol inhibits angiogenesis by multiple mechanisms. Br J Pharmacol. 2012; 167(6): 1218-31.

What is the Difference Between Cannabinoids and Cannabidiol? (2017, September 20) Retrieved October 26, 2018, from


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About The Author
Karuna Chandra Rockwell