Cancer and cannabinoids

Over the decades, there have been different medical reviews and reports documenting the potentials of CBD in medicine. Pharmaceuticals now contain CBD-derived ingredients manufactured and incorporated into drug products. However, the incorporation of CBD into drug products follows strict compliance with specified regulations in the affected region of the world. The incidence rates of cancer cases have been changing steadily. In 2019, cancer statistics published by the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Reported a stable cancer incidence rate in women over the past ten years. However, incidence rates in men decline annually by an approximate rate of 2 percent. 

In 2003, the World Cancer Report—a publication of the World Health Organization, forecasted that global cancer rate could increase tremendously by 50 percent to 15 million by the end of 2020. The rising cases of cancer in the world has called for an innovative therapeutic approach that guarantees symptomatic relief and improved prognosis. The Integrative therapy approach currently recommended by different Cancer Research Centers involves the combination of natural products with conventional cancer management methods, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy. 

Medical reviews supporting the clinical use of cannabinoids based on effects on the cannabinoid systems have substantially increased in recent years. In 2013, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published a report detailing the potential benefits of CBD as an anticancer drug. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound with known effects on cancer cell migration, tumor neovascularization, and cancer cell adhesion. Data review evidence from this study also confirmed that CBD exhibits significant anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic properties that might be useful in the management of cancer. Currently, various studies have been directed toward exploring the efficacy of CBD in modulating the steps of tumor cell formation and possible use of CBD as an alternative therapeutic agent. 


Benefits of CBD in chemotherapy

  • Pain management

Most cancer patients experience recurring episodes of generalized body pain as the cancer stage progresses with time. Depending on cancer type and management, the intensity of pain can range from moderate to multiple sites, severe pain stimulations. Unlike normal pain stimulus in healthy subjects, cancer pain is not considered a homogenous entity and, in most cases, involves several pathological mechanisms. In essence, the nature of cancer pain is complex and requires a combination of conventional analgesics and complementary natural products for optimal relief. 

CBD offers a complementary therapy approach for cancer pain. In 2002, a report published by the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics examined the potential usefulness of Cannabinoids in the management of cancer-related neuropathic pain. CBD was confirmed to relieve cancer-related pain by activating cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain, spinal tract, and nerve terminals. In addition, mild activation of CB2 receptors also affects analgesia by inhibiting the production of pain and inflammatory mediators. Other studies have since recommended the use of CBD as alternative analgesia in cancer patients in whom opioids and NSAIDs are contraindicated. 

  • Relief of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting

In addition to multiple site pain stimulations, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and vomiting (CINV) is another common experience in cancer patients. CIVN is reflexively triggered by the chemotherapy agents that affect steady damage of the stomach cells. These agents also stimulate the vagal efferent in a complex reaction cascade that results in an emetic response. Neurotransmitters involved in this response include dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, cannabinoids, and acetylcholine. 


The report of a systematic quantitative review aimed at examining the potentials of cannabinoids in the control of CIVN was published in August 2000. This review involved 30 randomized comparisons of cannabis with placebo or antiemetic of confirmed efficacy status in CIVN management. The result showed that cannabinoids were more effective agents when compared with prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, haloperidol, and chlorpromazine in the management of CIVN. Based on similar studies, the Food and Drug has since approved Dronabinol and Nabilone—synthetic derivatives of cannabinoids—for the management of CIVN in patients with minimal response to conventional antiemetic. 

  • Appetite stimulation

Cancer patients with advanced malignancies often present with physical disfigurement linked with low-calorie intake, early satiety, weight loss, anorexia, and significantly low appetite stimulation. The stimulatory effects of CBD on the cannabinoid one receptor have fueled researches into the potential of CBD to improve food acceptance in cancer patients. CB1 receptors are found in the brain where they have corresponding effects on feeding and cognition. Cannabinoids generally have been found to improve calorie intake and treat the wasting syndrome associated with cancer and AIDS. CBD is combined with THC formulations for appetite stimulation in these patients as it blocks the psychoactive effect of THC and increases appetite stimulation effects. 

  • Improved cancer prognosis

In all cases of cancer management, early diagnosis, and an effective therapeutic approach is known to significantly improve prognosis. CBD improves the prognosis of cancer by potentiating the effects of the chemotherapy agent. This is unlinked with the anti-tumor effect of this compound. A 2014 report published by the British Journal of Pharmacology examined the potentiating effect of CBD in mice treated with Paclitaxel (PAC)—a chemotherapy agent used in humans. Conclusive results from this experiment confirmed that the incidence of PAC-induced mechanical and thermal sensitivity in test subjects was reduced by CBD. A combination of CBD and PAC therapy approach in this research was also found to produce a synergistic effect on the inhibition of breast cancer cell viability. 

  • Induction of cancerous cell death

Several types of research have extensively studied the anti-tumor properties of CBD, as there is convincing evidence that CBD reduces the rate of proliferation in laboratory cell cultures. In humans, CBD targets the endocannabinoid system and modulates the normal cellular process and signaling pathways essential for tumor proliferation. In essence, CBD shows potentials in halting the cell cycle, inducing cell death, and altering the rate of tumor cell migration. The anti-tumor effects of CBD are still experimental at best as this effect has only been demonstrated in mouse models.  

In addition to the benefits already discussed, there is also substantial evidence to suggest that CBD reduced the incidence of anxiety and depression during chemotherapy. It also reduces the risk of cancer developments in healthy subjects. 



Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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