Is CBD oil effective in the fight against cancer?

While medical marijuana is a hotly debated modality, CBD oil use continues to grow.

What is CBD? Cannabidiol is a naturally occurring chemical compound from the cannabis plant. It is used in oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. However, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s not psychoactive.

For cancer patients, Healthline says, “Some studies have investigated the role of CBD in preventing cancer cell growth, but research is still in its early stages. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that CBD may help alleviate cancer symptoms and cancer treatment side effects.

However, the NCI doesn’t fully endorse any form of cannabis as a cancer treatment. The action of CBD that’s promising for cancer treatment is its ability to moderate inflammation and change how cell reproduce. CBD has the effect of reducing the ability of some types of tumor cells to reproduce.” (1)

Furthermore, the NCI notes the use of cannabis and its components as a treatment for people with cancer-related symptoms caused by the disease itself or its treatment. Among the key points: (2)

  • Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
  • By federal law, the possession of cannabis is illegal in the United States, except within approved research settings; however, a growing number of states, territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize its medical use.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
  • Chemical components of cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.
  • Commercially available cannabinoids, such as dronabinol and nabilone, are approved drugs for the treatment of cancer-related side effects.
  • Cannabinoids may have benefits in the treatment of cancer-related side effects.

‘There’s not a lot of evidence’

Many questions (and even more confusion) remain regarding CBD oil, its manufacturing, and sales of the product. While CBD is now as common as coffee in some neighborhoods, sold in shopping malls and tested by a national hamburger chain, possession of CBD in some places can prompt an arrest. (3) (Really, read this …)

“I think CBD is a safe thing to try,” says Dr. says Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management for the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He urges patients to pressure on representatives to get national bills passed to allow more research on CBD. (4)

“My practice has patients walking in every day asking about CBD,” he says. But anecdotal evidence lacks in-depth research and “it’s still very difficult to say” what the real benefits are.

“Right now, you just have pharmacies trying to make some sort of sense out of it and say, ‘Yes, it works for this,’ ” he says, “but that’s not the way medicine is practiced — it should be based on evidence, and there’s not a lot of evidence to really support these claims.”

Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) states, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential. … To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.” (5)

Promise in the fight against cancer

There is one FDA-approved cannabis-derived medicine, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. It is used to treat childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut (LGS), which typically do not respond to anti-seizure medications.

Epidiolex was studied in three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. The study included 516 patients with either Dravet syndrome or LGS. The most common adverse effects were sleepiness, sedation, and lethargy; elevated liver enzymes; decreased appetite; diarrhea; rash; fatigue, malaise and weakness; insomnia, sleep disorder and poor quality sleep; and infections. (6)

The NCI has reviewed numerous studies regarding the link between cannabis and cancer. The research has mixed results. A 1997 study found that cannabis use did not increase the risk of tobacco-related cancers. (But the research showed male cannabis users who never smoked tobacco had an increased risk of prostate cancer.) A 2015 study found that cannabis users had a 45-percent lower risk of developing bladder cancer. (7, 8)

The bottom line is that no large-scale clinical trials are investigating the use of cannabis as a cancer treatment. The pilot studies that are underway are in early stages.

Researchers have shown cannabinoids shows promise in the fight against cancer, inhibiting the growth of different types of tumor cell in both test tubes and animal models. (9)

If you’re considering CBD oil, talk to a doctor. For cancer patients, it is a best practice to discuss with a healthcare professional to ensure that CBD will not react with any of the medications you make be taking.



(1) Kristeen Cherney. 6 Benefits of CBD Oil.

(2) National Cancer Institute. Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) — Health Professional Version.

(3) Timothy Williams. CBD Is Wildly Popular. Disputes Over Its Legality Are a Growing Source of Tension.

(4) Kathleen Felton. Every Question You Have About CBD — Answered.

(5) World Health Organization. CANNABIDIOL (CBD) Pre-Review Report. Agenda Item 5.2.  Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-ninth Meeting. Geneva, 6-10 November 2017.

(6) Kristen Coppock. Groundbreaking Drug for Treating 2 Rare Forms of Epilepsy Now Available.

(7) Sidney S., Quesenberry CP Jr., Friedman GD., Tekawa IS. Marijuana use and cancer incidence (California, United States).

(8) Thomas AA, Wallner LP, Quinn VP, Slezak J, Van Den Eeden SK, Chien GW, Jacobsen SJ. Association between cannabis use and the risk of bladder cancer: results from the California Men’s Health Study.

(9) Małgorzata Pokrywka, Joanna Góralska, Bogdan Solnica. Cannabinoids – a new weapon against cancer?


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