Experts have said more research is needed to prove that self-medicating with CBD oil is what caused the woman’s tumor to shrink. Medical marijuana may relieve some lung cancer symptoms, but whether it treats this cancer is still unknown.
Woman’s Lung Cancer Shrinking After She Took CBD Oil Prompts Caution From Scientists
Scientists have advised caution after a report emerged of a woman whose lung cancer tumor shrank after she took regular doses of CBD oil.
CBD oil, which is a non-psychoactive chemical extracted from the hemp or cannabis plant, is linked to several possible health benefits such as pain relief and anxiety reduction.
People have also wondered whether CBD could be used as a cancer treatment, but this link remains inconclusive, according to MedicalNewsToday.
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A case report was published in the British Medical Journal on October 14 involving a woman in her 80s who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 after she went to doctors with a persistent cough.
The woman, a 68-pack-a-year smoker, was offered treatment for her cancer including surgery and radiotherapy, but she declined both, so doctors decided to simply watch and wait by carrying out regular scans.
According to the case report, regular CT scans over the following two-and-a-half years showed that her lung tumor appeared to be shrinking over time, despite the fact that the woman was continuing to smoke and was not receiving any conventional treatment.
The lesion in her lungs was measured at 41 millimeters in June 2018 and had reduced to 10 millimeters by February 2021.
When doctors contacted her to discuss this, she revealed that she had been taking “CBD oil” as a self-treatment after being advised to do so by a family member shortly after her 2018 diagnosis.
The woman was taking 0.5 milliliters of the oil two to three times per day by ingesting it. The case report authors note that the oil “appears to have had a positive effect on her disease” but couldn’t conclusively confirm this.
“Although there is clearly a potential for cannabinoids to be used as a primary or as an adjunct form of cancer treatment, further research is required to identify exactly which compound works against which specific cancer cell type,” the report states.
It also notes that previous studies have “failed to agree on the usefulness of cannabinoids as a cancer treatment.”
Meanwhile, scientists not involved in the case report have said that while the case appears encouraging, it should be taken with caution.
Professor David Nutt, The Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, told the Science Media Centre (SMC) that the example is “one of many such promising single case reports of medical cannabis self-treatment for various cancers,” but added: “A case report itself is not sufficient to give any form of proof that one thing caused the other—we need trials for that.”
Professor Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, echoed the point, telling the SMC that while some case reports into cancer and cannabis extracts have been encouraging, “case reports cannot be considered to be reliable evidence.”
One other issue with this case was that the woman had used CBD oil that also contained THC—the chemical in cannabis that causes people to feel high.
“This type of product is very different to most CBD oils which predominantly contain CBD,” Dr. Tom Freeman, senior lecturer and director of the Addiction and Mental Health Group at the University of Bath, told SMC.
Indeed, the case report authors note that it is difficult to conclude whether the THC in the woman’s oil contributed to the tumor reduction or if it was just the CBD component that may have had a positive effect.
Freeman added that “people with lung cancer should always seek guidance from a healthcare professional.”
A stock photo shows a small bottle of oil against a backdrop of cannabis plants. CBD, which can take the form of oil, has been linked to various potential health benefits but it is still not known whether it can be used to treat cancer. Tinnakorn Jorruang/Getty
Is Cannabis a Potential Lung Cancer Treatment?
Cannabis, better known to most folks as marijuana or pot, might have the potential to ease pain and other symptoms of lung cancer. But so far, there’s no evidence it can work as a treatment for the disease.
Cannabis is a drug made from the dried leaves and buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. Some people smoke or eat marijuana for the “high” it gives, but it’s also getting a look from experts for the chance that it can play a role in helping with certain medical conditions.
What’s in Cannabis?
The active ingredients in cannabis are chemicals called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) gives the “high” people get when they use marijuana. Cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t cause the same euphoric feeling, but it does relax the body.
Both THC and CBD may help relieve the side effects of cancer and its treatments.
CBD oil is an extract from the hemp plant — a relative of cannabis — mixed with oil. Unlike THC, CBD oil doesn’t cause a high when you use it.
Cannabis and CBD products aren’t FDA-approved to treat lung cancer. They shouldn’t replace proven treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy. If you want to try cannabis for medical purposes, ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you.
How Do You Take Cannabis?
Cannabis products come in a few different forms. You can:
them in as smoke or through a vaporizer
- Eat or drink them
- Apply them to your skin as a cream, patch, or spray
Your doctor can suggest a form based on your symptoms and which types of cannabis are legal in your state.
When you smoke marijuana, it goes to work within seconds, but the effects only last for about 1 to 3 hours. When you eat marijuana, it starts to work more slowly, but the effects can last for up to 8 hours.
Potential Uses of Cannabis for Lung Cancer
Cannabis acts on your central nervous system and the immune system — your body’s defense against germs — in ways that could help ease symptoms of lung cancer or its treatment, like these:
Pain. There’s some evidence that marijuana eases pain, both from the cancer itself and from the nerve damage that treatments like chemotherapy can sometimes cause. It might help people who don’t get enough relief from opioid pain medicines.
Nausea and vomiting. Medical marijuana may help relieve these symptoms, which are common chemotherapy side effects. The FDA has approved two man-made cannabinoid drugs to treat nausea and vomiting: nabilone (Cesamet) and dronabinol (Marinol).
These drugs may help when other anti-nausea drugs haven’t worked. Your doctor can give you a prescription for them.
Weight loss. Dropping pounds is a common lung cancer symptom. You may lose weight because you don’t have an appetite, or because your treatment causes nausea and vomiting.
Cancer can sometimes cause muscle loss, called cachexia. Marijuana may also help with this symptom.
Anxiety and sleep. Sleepiness is a side effect of cannabis. If you have cancer, cannabis may improve sleep and ease anxiety.
Research on Cannabis as a Lung Cancer Treatment
Studies done in cells and animals show that cannabis slows or stops the growth of certain cancer cells — including lung cancer cells. But so far, there’s no evidence that it works as a treatment for cancer in people.
There’s also no evidence that CBD oil treats cancer or its symptoms, although it may ease anxiety, pain, and problems with sleep.
Research on marijuana as a cancer treatment has been slow because the federal government considers it an illegal drug. More studies are needed to learn how it might help with lung cancer and other types of cancer.
Cannabis Side Effects
Although medical marijuana is safe overall, it can cause side effects like these:
- Changes in heart rate
- Mood changes
Except for the two FDA-approved cannabis drugs, it’s hard to know how much CBD or THC is in the products you buy. How strong the doses are varies with the type you take.
There have been reports of contaminants like lead, pesticides, or dextromethorphan (an ingredient in cough medicines) in cannabis and CBD products. A small number of people have gotten infections after using one of these. People with cancer are already at a higher risk for infections because their immune system is weaker than usual.
CBD oil might also affect how well your cancer drugs work. For these reasons, it’s important to let your doctor know before you use CBD products, even if you can buy them over the counter.
American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Cancer.”
Cancer.Net: “Weight Loss.”
CDC: “How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?”
Harvard Medical School: “Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t.”
Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology: “The antitumor activity of plant-derived non-psychoactive cannabinoids.”
Journal of Thoracic Oncology: “Cannabis Use, Lung Cancer, and Related Issues.”
LungCancer.org: “Medical Marijuana and Cancer.”
Mayo Clinic: “Marijuana.”
MD Anderson Cancer Center: “CBD oil and cancer: 9 things to know.”
National Cancer Institute: “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ) — Health Professional Version.”
National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”