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benefits of cbd oil for cancer

There is currently 1 CBD treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Epidiolex, which is used to treat a rare and severe form of epilepsy in children. There are not currently any FDA-approved CBD medications for treating cancer or side effects of cancer treatments.

To date, no large-scale studies have shown CBD to have benefits for the treatment of people with cancer. Most studies that have been done evaluating CBD as a cancer treatment were in mice or in human cells in the lab. For instance, there are some studies that have shown that CBD inhibits the growth of cancer cells in mice with lung cancer or colon cancer. Another study showed that CBD, together with THC, killed glioblastoma cancer cells in the lab. However, no studies have been conducted in people with cancer.

What is CBD?

You may also be wondering if CBD is legal in your area. Some states allow the sale and possession of cannabis, including CBD and THC, for medical and recreational use. Others have stricter regulations, so state-by-state laws should always be learned before transporting CBD across state lines. Things are more complicated at the federal level. In 2018, the U.S. government recognized that hemp can be grown and manufactured legally as part of the Farm Act. Hemp can be used to make things like rope and clothing, in addition to CBD oil. In other words, hemp is no longer a controlled substance, which means it is not regulated by the government. This means that consumers have to evaluate the safety and quality of CBD products on their own. Some CBD, for example, may have much higher levels of THC than what is labeled.

CBD comes from cannabis plants called hemp that are specifically grown with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. Cannabis plants grown with high levels of THC are usually called marijuana. CBD comes from oil that is extracted from the cannabis plant. That oil can then be ingested as a liquid, a capsule, a gummy, or inhaled through vaping. It can also be added as an ingredient in such products as lotions and skin patches.

Yet there’s very little research around CBD and its use in treating people with cancer. Here’s what to know about what CBD is and what science currently shows about whether it’s safe and effective for people with cancer to use.

Dr. Raghunathan: It is possible that CBD could have a benefit with symptoms of anxiety, poor sleep, and pain. CBD has been studied a lot in the laboratory and in mice but far less in humans. Right now there are some studies that are evaluating CBD as a part of cancer treatment, but none of those have had significant results. The studies that do show a benefit with CBD are for specific epilepsy syndromes in children.

We asked Nirupa Raghunathan, an integrative medicine doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and pharmacist Jason Hou, who manages MSK’s About Herbs database, to share what people with cancer should know before trying marijuana or its cousin, cannabidiol (CBD).

Dr. Raghunathan: While legalization and regulation may change the accessibility and/or quality of all cannabis products, it doesn’t change the lack of scientific evidence. Unfortunately, we still don’t know enough about the benefits of these products for people with cancer. There is a lot of research happening in Canada and Australia because regulations around its use there have changed. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that. In the meantime, you and your doctor should discuss the potential benefits and harms of using anything with cannabis for medical purposes.

How can people with cancer use CBD?

New York State is the latest to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

Dr. Raghunathan: Medical marijuana contains THC and that requires certification in states that allow for medical marijuana. In New York, people with cancer are allowed to use medical marijuana in the form of capsules, liquids, oils, powder, and patches for the skin. There is medical cannabis that can be vaped, but not medical-grade marijuana leaf that can be smoked. Medical marijuana providers must be registered with the New York State Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Program. The restrictions in New York state are changing, but we don’t know how just yet.

You and your MSK care team should make a joint decision on using cannabis.

Dr. Hou: We need more research to assess the safety and effects of CBD. And we need to take a closer look at potential herb-drug interactions, which is especially important for people receiving chemotherapy.