CBD & Cancer

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Does CBD have a role to play in the future of cancer treatment?

The C word – something most of us have been affected by in some way. If not personally, maybe a friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer, or perhaps someone you loved lost their fight against it? The sad truth is that cancer rates are on the rise. It’s an epidemic in our modern world, with scientists working tirelessly for a solution; may that be synthetic or natural.

Over the last decade, mounting evidence has shown, and continues to show, that cannabinoids can slow cancer growth, inhibit the formation of new blood cells that feed a tumour, as well as help manage the side effects of cancer (or cancer treatment) such as pain, fatigue and nausea.

CBD and the ID-1 gene

One specific scientist, known as Dr Sean McAllister, from the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, has been studying cannabinoid compounds for over a decade with hope to develop treatments for various cancers. McAllister discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, is a potent inhibitor of breast cancer cell proliferation, metastasis (the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body) and tumour growth.

McAllister has published details about how CBD kills breast cancer cells and destroys malignant tumours by switching off the ID-1 gene, a protein that appears to play a major role as a cancer cell ‘conductor’.

Interestingly, the ID-1 gene is active during the development and formation of the human embryo, after which it plays a less active role in the human body. However, when breast cancer and some other cancers develop, the ID-1 gene becomes active again, causing cancerous cells to invade and metastasise (spread). It’s been found that several aggressive cancers overexpress the ID-1 gene.

Because of its ability to ‘silence’ ID-1 expression, Dr McAllister believes that CBD could be a breakthrough anticancer treatment if delivered at the right dose, at the right time.

Enhancing chemotherapy

Dr McAllister and his team are also exploring how CBD works in combination with chemotherapy agents. His research shows that CBD acts alongside various anticancer medications, enhancing their impact and therefore reducing the dose needed. This may play a vital role in reducing the nasty side-effects that often accompany cancer treatments.

There are also numerous other studies that have looked at how CBD works together with chemotherapy, improving survival from glioblastoma – a severe brain cancer – and multiple myeloma – a type of bone cancer. This demonstrates that CBD can influence cancer treatment, but it’s still unknown how effective this is in humans and if it would help all groups of people.

Reducing side-effects

There is some evidence that cannabinoids can help ease cancer-related symptoms such as nausea and pain. For example, some drugs that have been developed using cannabinoids have been effective in treating sickness caused by chemotherapy, or improving a person’s appetite.

Cannabinoids may also help manage cancer-related pain due to its well-known anti-inflammatory action.

The general outlook

Looking further afield, to research in all areas, the general feel is that CBD has potential as a cancer treatment in some form. Scientists, in general, agree that cannabinoids can:

  • Cause a cell to die

  • Stop cells from dividing

  • Stop cells from developing new blood vessels

Many promising studies have been undertaken looking at the effects of CBD, but most of these have been done in cell samples or animals. Larger human trials in cancer patients is the next step. But the momentum and excitement is certainly there in the scientific sphere to move research forward.

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