The Ultimate Guide to CBD and Cancer

November 09, 2021
The Ultimate Guide to CBD and Cancer

Written by: Lindsay Modglin


Using CBD to ease the side effects of cancer treatment has long been a controversial issue, but with its relatively recent legalization, has become more commonplace. Although medical evidence is still inconclusive, many patients swear by the benefits of using CBD. Read on to learn more whether it could be beneficial for you. 

Using CBD for Cancer: Will it Help?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that comes from the cannabis plant. It’s been used to treat pain and is recently being studied for its potential benefits related to cancer.

Researchers are still uncovering the potential health benefits of CBD for cancer patients, but what do they know so far? How do you know if CBD is right for you? And who should avoid using it? This article will help shed some light on what's currently known about CBD for cancer.

What is CBD?

CBD is a derivative of the cannabis plant, but it contains very little or no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive component that makes users feel "high." CBD may potentially have medicinal benefits without the euphoric sensations that THC induces.

“CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is a key component in many types of cancer,” says Dr. Lewis Jassey, DO, pediatrician, osteopathic medicine, and medical director of Leafwell, a telehealth platform focusing on medical cannabis education and consultation. “Cannabinoids can suppress cytokines (inflammatory proteins) and activate apoptosis (cell death) in immune cells.”

CBD has been decreasingly associated with marijuana and is more often derived from the hemp plant. Marijuana and hemp plants both come from the Cannabis Sativa plant species; however, they are different varieties. The major difference between marijuana and hemp is the level of THC in the plant.

Marijuana has high levels of THC and is illegal to possess in many states, while hemp contains very little THC (less than 0.3%) and is legal to possess and sell (although regulated) in all 50 states.

There are 3 types of CBD extracts available:

  • CBD isolate: Contains only pure CBD; all other compounds such as THC and terpenes have been removed
  • Broad-spectrum: Contains CBD and the other plant compounds, except for THC
  • Full-spectrum: Contains CBD and all other plant compounds including THC

CBD also comes in several different forms:

  • Tinctures: Liquid CBD that is placed under the tongue
  • Capsules: Gelatin or vegetable-based capsules that contain CBD
  • Edibles: CBD infused foods and beverages; Most commonly gummies
  • Topicals: Creams and salves containing CBD that are applied directly to the skin
  • Vape Oil: CBD oil used in vaping devices

How Does CBD Work?

CBD works with your body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) to help restore balance. This internal system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis throughout the body, including appetite, mood, sleep, and pain perception.

When CBD enters the body, it activates the receptors in your ECS. Once activated, your body can produce significant anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. This is likely how CBD works for cancer patients: by reducing inflammation and chronic pain which can help with the common side effects of traditional treatment.

How does CBD differ from Cannabis?

As mentioned earlier, the main differentiator is in the chemical profile. Cannabis contains high levels of THC, which is the psychoactive component that’s responsible for the euphoric sensations or “high”. Cannabis is also packed with different forms of cannabinoids, and some studies have shown that CBD and CBN (another cannabinoid) may even work to enhance THC's effects.

CBD does not contain any psychoactive properties and it has a very low affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are the main receptors in the endocannabinoid system. CBD does not impair coordination, perception, or judgment—like high levels of THC can.

What are the Benefits of Using CBD for Cancer?

While there is still a lot of research to be done, there are some preliminary findings that suggest using CBD for cancer may help with some of the common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“CBD can help the body during cancer treatment by reducing nausea and vomiting, reducing anxiety, and reducing inflammation,” explains Jassey. “In higher doses, CBD can act as a sedative and help aid sleep as well.”

CBD may help:

  • Support a balance in mood
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression
  • Reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body
  • Reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemo treatment
  • Treat symptoms of neuropathy, a common side effect of treatment
  • Relieve anxiety
  • Promote a healthy sleep cycle

Side Effects & Risks

Even as a natural product, CBD can have negative side effects. In high doses, CBD may cause drowsiness and changes in appetite.

“Different types of cancer require different forms of treatment,” adds Jassey. “This means that not all cancers are responsive to cannabinoid treatment. In such cases, CBD could be neutral or even harmful.”

Jassey explains some of the potential risks including:

  • Damage to important blood vessels
  • Increase your heart rate in the short term
  • In some situations, encouraging cancer cells to grow
  • Make the immune system less effective due to cytokine inhibition – the immune system fights diseases such as cancer.

In some cases, CBD may interfere with the metabolism of certain medications. This is why it’s so important to talk with your healthcare team before adding CBD or any other supplement to your routine.

Where to Buy CBD for Cancer

One of the most common mistakes CBD users make is buying their CBD products from a gas station or smoke shop. This is one of the simplest ways to get ripped off, as these establishments have little oversight when it comes to quality control.

Check to see if your CBD product is:

  • Third-party lab tested: Ensures your product is free of contaminants and contains the appropriate levels of CBD
  • Labeled transparently: The label should tell you how much CBD the product contains, serving size, and other ingredients
  • 100% US-grown hemp
  • Manufactured in an FDA-inspected, GMP-certified facility

These are all indicators of a high-quality and safe CBD product. When you find a manufacturer you trust, consider ordering directly from their website. Buying from third-party retailers opens up additional risks, as there is no guarantee the product was made from high-quality hemp.

Still not sure where to buy? Here’s our list of fully-vetted CBD companies that check all the boxes for quality, safety, and efficacy:

  • Lazarus Naturals: High-quality organic hemp CBD products, many of which are THC-free
  • NuLeaf Naturals: Pure CBD products with a focus on transparency and quality
  • Canodyne: Small-batch CBD company best known for their pharmaceutical-grade CBD Pain Gel
  • GoldBee: Small-batch, craft CBD products
  • Charlotte's Web: A Colorado-based CBD company and one of the most trusted and reputable CBD brands
  • CBDistillery: A Colorado-based boutique hemp farm focused on premium CBD products made from non-GMO, U.S. grown hemp
  • Medterra: Fully compliant non-GMO CBD from seed to sale
  • Green River Botanicals: USDA organic hemp-derived CBD products
  • Joy Organics: USDA organic hemp-derived full and broad-spectrum products

FAQs About CBD Oil and Cancer Treatment

How often should I take CBD?

CBD works best when taken consistently. You should take your supplements around the same time each day. Frequent changes in dosage can interfere with the effectiveness.

How much CBD should I take?

This varies based on each person's individual needs. When starting out, take the smallest dose possible, then gradually increase the amount until you find what works best for you. Always follow the instructions on the product label.

Does CBD oil contain THC?

Some CBD oil contains a small amount of THC (less than 0.3%). When looking for a CBD product that is THC-free, you need to verify which type of CBD extract is used in each product. CBD isolate is always THC-free. Broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD products may contain the federally legal amount of THC.

How do you know if CBD is working?

It takes time to find the right dose and see how CBD will affect you. If you feel like it's not working, or your symptoms persist after several weeks of treatment, consider adjusting your dosage.

Which form of CBD should I use?

CBD comes in tinctures, capsules, edibles, topicals, and vape oils. Each form has its advantages and disadvantages. Many cancer patients prefer tinctures and capsules for convenience. Topical CBD products are great for localized pain relief.

Vaping is not recommended, as it can damage the lungs.

Where Can I do my own CBD research?

When looking at cannabinoid research related to cancer, it’s important to look at the specific type of CBD oil being studied.

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in Cannabis plants. Each type of cannabinoid has a different effect on the body when introduced. Different cannabinoids will have different effects depending on the type of cancer and the specific cannabinoid studied.

PubMed is a database with up-to-date research on cannabinoids and cancer treatment. You can find more resources here.

Should I Try CBD for My Cancer?

“There is some good quality evidence that CBD can help treat some types of cancer, but more clinical trials are needed in order to truly grasp CBD's efficacy,” concludes Jassey. 

“It must also be noted that whilst pure CBD can be useful on its own for some types of cancer, its anti-cancer activity is often improved by mixing it with other cannabinoids (the entourage effect). Much more research is needed to grasp which cannabinoids are needed and at what dosage they are effective, as well as which type/s of cancer cannabinoids can treat.”

CBD is a complex substance, and there are many unknowns when it comes to using it for cancer treatment. If you’re interested in trying CBD, talk with your healthcare team and consult with a certified cannabis professional. 

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