Is CBD Oil Safe for Cancer Patients to Use?
Cancer physicians will tell you that not a clinic day goes by without a patient inquiring about whether they should use CBD oil or other marijuana-derived products.
The problem is that because marijuana has been listed as a Class 1 drug in the United States, there is very little research about how the cannabinoids derived from marijuana — substances such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — interact with cancer treatment.
Dr. Natalie Schmitz joined the UW School of Pharmacy faculty in 2018 from Minnesota, where medical marijuana is legal and where she practiced as a medical cannabis pharmacist. Here at Wisconsin, her research program looks at using marijuana-derived drugs to treat spasticity and other issues related to neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and head and spinal cord injuries.
She gave a presentation on CBD oil to patients, families and physicians who attended the 2019 Brain Tumors Across the Spectrum event sponsored by UW Carbone Cancer Center.
Can CBD Oil Help Cancer Patients?
Here is some of what she shared:
Is CBD oil safe for cancer patients to use?
Early research suggests it is relatively safe, but the problem is that the FDA currently doesn’t regulate supplements. A 2017 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that CBD levels varied widely in the products they tested and that some of them also contained THC, the compound in marijuana that makes you “high.” CBD by itself will not get you high, and it has minimal side effects, the most common being diarrhea.
What conditions might CBD or THC help?
The most common condition patients use it for is pain. Research shows that CBD has modest effects on pain, but some patients prefer it to standard and more addictive forms of pain medication. There is more evidence for THC and pain-relief.
THC has been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting about as well as standard anti-nausea medicine. Pre-clinical research shows that CBD also suppresses nausea in low doses, but higher doses could make it worse.
Some research in mice suggests that marijuana has some anti-cancer properties, but it certainly should not replace standard treatment.
CBD has no effect on appetite. The results on whether CBD can help with sleep are mixed, and better research is needed. There is some evidence that CBD improves anxiety symptoms.
Beyond cancer, both CBD and THC can prevent seizures and Epidiolex, a drug based on CBD, was approved last year for a severe form of epilepsy.
What are the problems it could cause?
The problems are more strongly associated with marijuana products that contain THC.
Long-term cannabis smoking can cause bronchitis and other respiratory problems. So far, smoking marijuana has not been linked to lung cancer or head and neck cancers, but there is some limited evidence of an association between smoking marijuana and testicular cancer.
Chronic use of marijuana can also have effects on heart rhythm and blood pressure.
Consuming THC can make mental health problems such as psychosis and bi-polar disorder worse. It is also not recommended for patients with a history of alcohol or other substance abuse.
Additionally, because the effects of THC can include drowsiness and reduced cognitive function, using it may mask similar symptoms caused by brain tumors. As CBD does not cause cognitive impairment, we would not expect the same concerns.
In conclusion, what should patients be aware of?
If patients are going to use CBD, ensure the product they use is free from contaminants, is third party tested, and they are communicating their use with providers to check for any potential drug-drug interactions.