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CBD for cancer patients

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 alone. The economic impact of cancer — not to mention the intense human suffering — is increasingly significant, accounting for a total annual economic cost of more than $1 trillion.

The CDC estimates that the total number of cancer cases will increase by 49% from 2015 to 2050 as a result of the growing and aging U.S. population, further exasperating its health and economic impact. For that reason, research focusing on the medicinal benefits of CBD to help manage cancer symptoms is on the upswing, and research by the National Institutes of Health indicates promising results for CBD as an anti-cancer drug.

What anti-cancer properties does CBD possess?

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have indicated CBD possesses a wide array of therapeutic benefits for individuals living with cancer. These studies demonstrated that CBD has been shown to successfully induce cell death; inhibit cell migration and invasion; decrease tumor size, vascularization, growth and weight; increase survival; and induce tumor regression.

CBD has also demonstrated robust anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on a wide variety of cancer types — meaning that CBD both inhibits malignant cell growth (anti-proliferative) and promotes controlled cell death (pro-apoptotic). Cannabinoids even appear to kill tumor cells without affecting healthy cells, and may even protect those healthy cells from cell death while targeting the malignant cells.

What studies have been done on CBD and cancer?

A 2020 review of multiple peer-reviewed studies by the National Institutes of Health demonstrated the therapeutic potential of CBD for a wide array of cancer types. In these studies, CBD demonstrated its ability to inhibit the migration, invasion and metastasis in aggressive breast cancer types both in vitro (in a test tube or petri dish) and in vivo (in living organisms like lab animals), suggesting multiple mechanisms by which CBD impedes tumor migration.

A 2012 study that employed a mouse model of colon cancer demonstrated that CBD actually exerts a chemopreventive effect, thereby reversing, suppressing or even preventing healthy cells from ever transforming into cancer cells. In in vitro experiments examining colorectal cancer cell lines, experts found that CBD protected DNA from oxidative damage, increased endocannabinoid levels and even reduced cell proliferation through multiple mechanisms.

A 2012 study examined the anti-inflammatory effects of both phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) and endocannabinoids (endogenously-produced cannabinoids) on patients with colorectal cancer. These scientists employed a mouse model which demonstrated that endogenous cannabinoid system signaling likely provides intrinsic protection against colonic inflammation. This resulted in a hypothesis that phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids may be beneficial in the risk reduction and treatment of colorectal cancer.

While several studies have demonstrated the therapeutic effects of cannabis-derived products on cancer patients, no CBD products have been FDA-approved to treat cancer or ease symptoms of the disease. However, scientists have noted an “urgent need” for more research and clinical trials examining the therapeutic effects of CBD and other cannabis-derived products on numerous types of cancers.

What benefits does CBD provide for cancer management?

Pain management is an important aspect of long-term cancer treatment. Cancer pain can result from inflammation, nerve injury or as a result of harsh cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiation. Because CBD has demonstrated analgesic (pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory qualities, it offers a high level of pain relief and therapeutic benefit without the psychoactive effects of THC or habit-forming side effects of opioids.

Anxiety related to one’s cancer diagnosis and prognosis is another common side effect of the disease. CBD has demonstrated anxiolytic (or anti-anxiety) qualities by working with the endocannabinoid system to both decrease autonomic arousal and prevent long-term effects of anxiety-induced stress. CBD also prevents the effects of acute stress by enhancing neuroprotection and decreasing excessive neuroinflammatory responses.

CBD may also help cancer patients experiencing chronic insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep. Because insomnia is often related to pain and anxiety, and because CBD can have a pain-relieving and anti-anxiety effect, CBD may help alleviate the symptoms that perpetuate chronic insomnia.

While CBD and other cannabis-derived products offer untapped potential for cancer patients, everyone is different and reacts differently to different substances. Cancer patients who are trying these products for the first time should consult their doctor to determine the best dose and method of consumption based on one’s individual needs, diagnosis and treatment plan.

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