How CBD Is Used For Cancer Patients

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Many cancers form solid tumors, though there are some exceptions (such as cancers of the blood). Chemotherapy plays a major role in fighting the disease.

But this treatment also affects normal, non-cancerous cells in your body. It causes a number of serious and unpleasant symptoms of cancer that include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite (anorexia) and depression. 

Radiation therapy is a localized treatment but can cause damage to the surrounding tissue near the cancer cells. This can result in pain as well as nutritional dysfunction, particularly when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or central nervous system is irradiated.

Often the side effects include nausea, headache, anorexia, dysphagia, malabsorption along with malnutrition. This can lead to dramatic weight loss, fatigue and insomnia. Many patients also suffer from anxiety and depression.  

Studies With Medical Marijuana

NOTE FOR FIRST TIME READERS: Cannabinoids – such as THC, CBD – and terpenes are the main medically active components in cannabis (aka marijuana). For more information on these components, and much more about the cannabis plant, see our section on the Science of Cannabis.

There’s a wide range of benefits for cancer patients who use the effects of CBD for symptom relief. It’s commonly acknowledged that cannabis helps to relieve nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite that can come from chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It has long been prescribed in the form of Marinol, a federally approved form of THC.

In addition, cannabis is used to treat chronic pain or depression that may accompany cancer treatments. There are increasing amounts of evidence that suggest its use outweighs using prescription medication. 

Studies on using cannabis for treating nausea and vomiting in cancer patients found it to be equally effective, if not better than the conventional medications available at the time. There are years of research showing that cannabis works well as a pain reliever without the serious side effects of conventional painkillers.

For those with advanced cancer suffering from severe pain, cannabis works synergistically in combination with opioid painkillers. This allows patients to reduce the amount of medication they take, which in turn lowers the risk of taking higher doses of opioids. Using cannabis in this way decreases pain while limiting the problems like nausea or loss of appetite as well as the risks of accidentally overdosing. 

It‘s generally agreed that cannabis doesn’t cause cancer and, in some cases, may inhibit the growth of tumors. This is well documented in studies of the gliomas where cannabinoids have been shown to decrease their growth in animals.

In 2006, researchers did the first-ever pilot study in humans looking at using THC to shrink recurrent brain tumors. It showed there was some decrease in tumor growth among a portion of the patients.

In a 2011 study, regression (or shrinking) of brain tumors was documented in two teenagers who were regularly inhaling cannabis and were not receiving any other conventional treatment.  

There is active research looking into cannabidiol (CBD) as a potential treatment for aggressive breast cancer. Researchers found that CBD inhibits a gene that is believed to be responsible for the metastatic process that spreads cells from the original cancer tumor throughout the body. Additionally, separate research studies have shown that cannabinoids inhibit the growth and spread of various cancer cell lines including breast carcinoma, prostate carcinoma, colorectal carcinoma, gastric adenocarcinoma, skin carcinoma, leukemia cells, neuroblastoma, lung carcinoma, and others. 

The National Cancer Institute recently reported research on cannabinoids and cannabis: “The potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct anti-tumor effect.” Their website also states: “Cannabinoids have a favorable drug safety profile. Unlike opioid receptors, cannabinoid receptors are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration; therefore, lethal overdoses due to respiratory suppression do not occur.”

CBD Uses For People With Cancer

The most important thing to consider when using CBD products for cancer patients is to know what effects you’re looking for. If you want help with appetite, see the Anorexia section.

The same for Nausea, Depression, and Chronic Pain, see the relevant sections. The dosage regimen to actually treat cancer with cannabis is individualized and should be supervised by a professional.

Both CBD and THC have anti-tumoral properties for specific types of cancer, so there’s no one answer. But keep in mind that all anti-tumoral regimens involve high dose cannabis, up to 500 mg to 1000 mg of cannabinoids/day. This is delivered by concentrated oil and can be costly due to the high amounts.

Another arena that cannabis is useful for is as an adjuvant therapy for cancer, in conjunction with whatever else your treatment specifies. In this case, high doses are still used, but not as extreme, more like 100 to 300 mg of cannabinoids/day.


Abrams DI, et al. Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Neurology. 2007, 68 (7): 515-21.

Ligresti A, et al. Anti-tumor activity of plant cannabinoids with emphasis on the effect of cannabidiol on human breast carcinoma. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Fast Forward. 2006, 318:1375-1387.

Massi P, et al. Antitumor effects of cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, on human glioma cell lines. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Fast Forward. 2004, 308:838-845.

McAllister et al. Cannabidiol as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in aggressive breast cancer cells. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. 2007, 6: 2921-2927.

Sarafaraz S, et al. Cannabinoids for cancer treatment: progress and promise. Cancer Research. 2008, 68:  339-342.

Vinciguerra V, et al. Inhalation marihuana as an antiemetic for cancer chemotherapy. New York State Journal of Medicine. 1988, 88: 525-527.  


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