There is much about CBD that is still unknown. It has largely gone unstudied because, until 2018, it was considered a schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). A schedule I drug is a drug that has been declared illegal by the DEA because of safety concerns over its potential for abuse and because there is no accepted medical use for it. Then, in September 2018, the DEA updated CBD’s status to become a schedule V drug. Schedule V drugs have a lower potential for abuse and are deemed to have some medical use.
CBD is 1 of the hundreds of chemicals found in the flowering cannabis plant. CBD does not have the psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects of another chemical found in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical that causes people to experience a “high.” CBD, on the other hand, is being used by some to help ease pain, anxiety, and sleep issues.
What is CBD?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is used to treat some symptoms related to cancer. It’s made from the flowers, leaves, and resin (sticky chemical) of the Cannabis sativa plant.
How can people with cancer use CBD?
Dr. Raghunathan: How CBD works is not fully understood, but it seems to work through a variety of pathways in the body that have different effects. For example, it seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is helpful with pain. It also works on serotonin receptors, which helps with anxiety. Because CBD works in many ways, people should discuss it with a doctor. It is important to understand both the possible benefits and risks.
New York State is the latest to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
Dr. Hou: When CBD is taken by mouth, some amount is absorbed and becomes available in the blood. There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body, and when CBD binds to them, that can trigger biological effects. But the downstream effects are still unclear because currently, there are very few human data. Other edible products containing CBD are likely absorbed and metabolized in a similar manner. There is, however, limited absorption through the skin with topical CBD oil.
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.