Cannabis, Cannabinoids and Their Use In Cancer Treatment

Guest article by Sam Hoffman, Content Marketing Specialist.

There has been a lot of talk about cannabinoids’ many beneficial properties recently, but just how trustworthy are these pieces of information? Well, you are just about to find out as we tackle this topic in some depth!

Now, we all know that cannabis is somewhat of a taboo subject and has, thus, caused a revolution in medicine in the past decade, dividing people into one of three groups: the ones who still consider it to be a drug that should remain illegal; the ones who believe medical use should be researched and explored, but oppose recreational legalization; and the ones who have recognized its numerous benefits for our health and think that it should be legalized both recreationally and for medical purposes.

Whichever group you fit into at the moment, there is the chance that learning about the science behind cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, your opinion may change!

However, one thing is certain – many studies conducted in the past few years have shown that both cannabis and cannabinoids can be extremely helpful when used for cancer treatment. Whether you are a sworn opponent of legalizing cannabis or not, this is a fact that must be acknowledged!

Hemp; cannabis; marijuana

Leaving the sneaking suspicions aside, let’s get into the cold hard facts about cannabis and cannabinoids and their effects on cancer treatment!

Cannabinoid Receptors

The first thing you should know when it comes to cannabinoids is that cannabidiol (CBD) is one of 144 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. As you may already know, CBD, in particular, has been a breakthrough medicine in the past decade and is now being used for many purposes. CBD is also, at the moment, the most common cannabinoid to be used in such purposes – although, we must stress, it is by no means the only compound in the cannabis plant that is helpful.

The thing that makes it a taboo is that people tend to put CBD hand in hand with THC, which could not be further from the truth. While both are compounds found in the cannabis plant, THC is psychoactive, whereas CBD is not, at least in the sense that CBD does not seem to have any particularly strong psychotropic or psychoactive effect. (CBD has a definite physiological effect and what could be called a “partially psychoactive” effect, so technically CBD is “psychoactive” in its own unique way.) Therefore, apart from other differences between the two, the main and the most important one is that CBD cannot make you ‘high’, at least in the way THC does.

There is, however, a major physiological effect, so in a sense, CBD could be seen as “active” but without the “psycho” part! There are also many other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that have little-to-no psychoactivity and could be just as useful as CBD. Even with THC, psychoactive amounts needn’t necessarily be used for therapeutic effect.

THC and its psychoactive components are one major reason why people tend to overlook cannabis as medicine. But once people begin to realize that CBD and many other cannabinoids are much safer in comparison to many other drugs that are already prescribed, perspectives tend to change.

It is also important to understand that our bodies produce a certain amount of cannabinoids on their own, which makes this remedy all the more natural. We have two main types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, CB1 and CB2. There are some suggestions that there are third and even fourth cannabinoid receptors, such as GPR55.

The majority of CB1 receptors are located in the brain, kidneys, lungs, and liver. Together with CB2 receptors (which are found on white blood cells and in the tonsils and spleen) they often have a great influence on our appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation. Cannabinoid receptors “talk” to other receptors in the body, and can influence the way they behave in direct or indirect ways. This exact discovery is what leads to a sudden revolution in natural remedies, because this means that using cannabis and cannabinoids has a direct influence on our CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Vaporizing; vape pen; vaporizer; cannabis

Cannabinoids’ Anticancer Effects

To say that studies on cannabis’ and cannabinoids’ beneficial properties in terms of treating cancer have just started taking place is definitely an overstatement. Although cannabis has been actively used in medical purposes for at least 3000 years, one of the first ‘recent’ studies with regards to cannabinoids’ use for cancer actually occurred in 1975, when Munson et al. discovered that cannabinoids show the ability of inhibiting proliferation, metastasis, and angiogenesis in Lewis lung adenocarcinoma growth.

Interestingly enough, in Munson’s study, delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, and CBN retarded cancer growth, whilst CBD did not. There have been many suggestions that different tumors require different cannabinoid profiles, and at different dosages. There are also others who suggest that CBD’s anticancer properties only become active when used in combination with other cannabinoids. The entourage effect, it seems, is very real and of significant benefit for cancer patients.

Another important discovery that has been made is the fact that CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists stimulate apoptotic cell death in glioma cells. Targeting CB2 receptors also lead to apoptosis of malignant lymphoblastic disease in vitro. Essentially, this means that the use of cannabinoids can cause the death of tumorous cells, while at the same time inhibiting their further reproduction, possibly by disrupting ceramide signalling. Such discoveries have been the basis for many of the studies currently taking place!

Benefits and Side Effects

Whilst cannabinoid treatment for cancer and nausea associated with chemotherapy has been around since the early 80s, it is only recently that proof was ascertained that cannabinoids can actually kill cancer cells themselves. Other therapeutic effects for cancer include:

  • Cannabinoids can help increase the appetite of patients who use chemotherapy as a means of treatment of cancer.
  • Cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties, which means that they can help alleviate muscle pain.
  • As mentioned, cannabinoids can eliminate some tumor cells, whilst leaving healthy cells intact. A review of evidence suggests has shown that cannabinoids efficiently induced cell death in breast cancer patients.
  • Further to the above, it is suggested that regular use of cannabinoids reduces the ability of some tumor cells’ reproduction.
  • Cannabinoids can help reduce nausea.
  • Cannabinoids may help protect the immune system.

On the other hand, even though most of the discoveries when it comes to cannabis’ and cannabinoids’ properties have generally been positive, there are some minor side effects that some CBD oil’s users have reported experiencing. Some of these side effects include drowsiness, diarrhea, dry mouth, lightheadedness, migraines, and headaches. Although useful as an antiemetic, there is some suggestion that, in some people, extremely high doses of cannabinoids may actually have the opposite effect and be a cause of nausea/vomiting. Those undergoing immunotherapy may also want to avoid cannabinoid treatment, as both treatment methods interfere with the immune system.

However, although these side effects can be quite inconvenient and unpleasant for the consumers, they are definitely not something that stops millions of people from seeking CBD oil to use as a treatment for their ailments. Such side-effects are also generally quite rare and unless used in combination with other drugs, never deadly.

Also, as noted above, do not think that CBD alone will help treat cancer. Remember: different types of cancer require different treatment methods, so specific cannabinoid profiles and dosages may be required to effectively beat cancer. Individual differences in a person’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS) may also change which type of profile is needed. Yes, some people suffering from specific types of cancer may benefit from CBD and other cannabinoids & terpenoids (with little or no THC), but others may require moderate or even high doses of THC, with or without CBD.


Whilst there is a significant amount of evidence suggesting that cannabinoids can be useful for cancers of many types, it is obvious that care should be taken when using it as a medicine for a condition as sensitive and potentially deadly as cancer. Learning how different cannabinoids work on their own and in combination with one another is hugely important, as it could give us a unique, comparatively safe medication for beating cancer. Get the wrong ratio at the wrong dosage, and cannabinoids may not be effective, or possibly even cause cancer to grow! More studies need to be carried out in this area, and ideally, governments should not restrict the research into phytocannabinoid use for cancer.

Cannabis; marijuana; smoking equipment' grinder; stash bag; vaporizer.

Taking into account that these side effects really are minor when compared to CBD oil’s benefits, the future of this natural remedy seems quite bright. There are yet lots of studies to be done on this particular subject, but one thing is certain – cannabis and cannabinoids are definitely changing medicine as we know it.

However, even though both are natural remedies that have not been processed as much as your medicine usually is, you still have to do enough research on the subject! Once you have enough information and you have consulted your doctor, make sure to get the best products on the market, and see for yourself if cannabinoids really are the future of medicine!

Sam Hoffman, Content marketing specialist

Sam is an award-winning writer with passion in providing creative solutions for building brands online. Since his first award in Creative Writing, he continued to deliver awesome content through various niches.

Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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