Cannabis products can be smoked, vaporized, ingested (eating or drinking), absorbed through the skin (in a patch) or as a cream or spray.
THC is a psychoactive substance that can create a ‘high’ feeling. It can affect how your brain works, changing your mood and how you feel.
We need more research to know if cannabis or the chemicals in it can treat cancer.
Researchers are looking into Sativex as a treatment for cancer related symptoms.
CBD is a cannabinoid that may relieve pain, lower inflammation and decrease anxiety without the psychoactive ‘high’ effect of THC.
This means a cannabis based product used to relieve symptoms.
Scientists also discovered that cannabinoids can:
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.
Yet there’s very little research around CBD and its use in treating people with cancer. Here’s what to know about what CBD is and what science currently shows about whether it’s safe and effective for people with cancer to use.
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.
Can CBD help people with cancer?
Studies to answer this question are underway. Some scientists are studying whether CBD could relieve some of the side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as pain, insomnia, anxiety, or nausea. Other scientists are studying whether CBD could potentially slow or stop the growth of cancer.
CBD is 1 of the hundreds of chemicals found in the flowering cannabis plant. CBD does not have the psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects of another chemical found in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical that causes people to experience a “high.” CBD, on the other hand, is being used by some to help ease pain, anxiety, and sleep issues.
There is currently 1 CBD treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Epidiolex, which is used to treat a rare and severe form of epilepsy in children. There are not currently any FDA-approved CBD medications for treating cancer or side effects of cancer treatments.
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.
Dr. Hou: We need more research to assess the safety and effects of CBD. And we need to take a closer look at potential herb-drug interactions, which is especially important for people receiving chemotherapy.
Dr. Hou: When CBD is taken by mouth, some amount is absorbed and becomes available in the blood. There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body, and when CBD binds to them, that can trigger biological effects. But the downstream effects are still unclear because currently, there are very few human data. Other edible products containing CBD are likely absorbed and metabolized in a similar manner. There is, however, limited absorption through the skin with topical CBD oil.
Dr. Raghunathan: How CBD works is not fully understood, but it seems to work through a variety of pathways in the body that have different effects. For example, it seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is helpful with pain. It also works on serotonin receptors, which helps with anxiety. Because CBD works in many ways, people should discuss it with a doctor. It is important to understand both the possible benefits and risks.
What do we know about how CBD works?
Dr. Raghunathan: CBD is not psychoactive in the same way that marijuana is. It doesn’t act on the cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, which is how THC works. However, it is possibly psychoactive because it works on serotonin receptors, and anything that affects mood is psychoactive. CBD has been studied in mice and seems to affect sleep-wake cycles. But CBD can be unexpectedly psychoactive and sedative because it’s not well-regulated. Studies have shown that some products that claim to be pure CBD actually have THC and other dangerous contaminants, such as opioids.
Dr. Raghunathan: The new law allows New Yorkers 21 and over to have up to three ounces of marijuana for recreational use. Using and selling marijuana are both legal, except in schools, workplaces, or in cars. The law also allows New Yorkers up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis products, including products containing CBD, which is one of many chemicals extracted from the cannabis plant. CBD is different from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, which is another chemical extracted from the cannabis plant.
The law also establishes retail licenses, opening the door for dispensaries selling marijuana online and in retail stores.
Dr. Raghunathan: While legalization and regulation may change the accessibility and/or quality of all cannabis products, it doesn’t change the lack of scientific evidence. Unfortunately, we still don’t know enough about the benefits of these products for people with cancer. There is a lot of research happening in Canada and Australia because regulations around its use there have changed. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that. In the meantime, you and your doctor should discuss the potential benefits and harms of using anything with cannabis for medical purposes.