Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Every year, Cancer kills more than 9 million people and that number is growing. Today, there are three primary treatments for cancer treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The side effects of chemotherapy are very harsh. Cannabidiol (CBD) has recently emerged as a pain and nausea management solution for chemotherapy patients experiencing side effects. In addition, some studies support how CBD for chemotherapy can work to inhibit cancer cells from growing. CBD has the potential to help millions of people manage their symptoms and drastically increase their quality of life.
Cancer & Chemotherapy
Cancer is essentially abnormal cells in the body growing. This particular abnormal growth is referred to as a tumor. Tumors can be either malignant where the tumor will spread to other tissues in the body or benign where the tumor will not spread to other tissues in the body.
There are various causes of cancer. Most of these are due to the patient’s lifestyle or behavioral patterns as well as environmental factors and a patient’s genetic predisposition. A chemical or substance that may cause cancer is known as a carcinogen. A common carcinogen is tobacco. So people who use or smoke tobacco products have a much higher chance of contracting cancer. Cancers commonly occur in the lungs, brain, throat, colon, and bladder as well as in many other areas of the body. Some areas and types of cancer can be operated on to remove it, while other cases require radiation therapy to fight it.
If radiation therapy has not been effective and surgical intervention is not an option, then clinicians may decide to use chemotherapy to fight cancer. Because of the severity and harshness of the treatment, there is a backlash against the use of chemotherapy. It is crucial to note, however, that the treatment program developed by the patient’s clinicians will depend on the type and severity of cancer. They will try to balance the onset of side effects with the need to fight the spread of cancer. In many cases, chemotherapy can save patients’ lives even when there is little hope.
What Exactly Does Chemotherapy Do?
Chemotherapy is a conventional treatment that can target cells that are dividing and replicating too quickly. However, unlike surgical or radiation treatments, it targets cells all over the body. A patient has to come into a designated clinic and receive an infusion of the chemo medications. These medications are most effective to target forms of cancer which have already metastasized and spread throughout the body.
Because this method of delivery means that the medications travel all throughout the body, chemotherapy damages both cancer cells and normal cells.
The Normal Cells That Suffer The Most Damage Are Usually:
- Bone marrow cells (which form red blood cells)
- Hair follicles (this is what causes hair loss)
- Cells in the digestive tract, reproductive system, and mouth
Some forms of chemotherapy can also cause damage to the heart, kidney, lung, nervous system, and bladder cells. It is important to note, however, that despite the toll that chemotherapy may take on the patient’s body, it is still an effective conventional treatment. It’s like fighting fire with fire. Some forms of cancer are so malignant and potentially fatal that it takes an aggressive chemotherapy regimen to fight them off. Chemotherapy has side effects of its own though. Cancer can come back stronger if the body is weakened from fighting it off and incurring damage from the chemotherapy process.
In certain cases, chemotherapy can actually cure the patient of their cancer by destroying the cancer cells so thoroughly that they never return. Other times, it is only effective in stopping cancer from metastasizing and the tumor from growing. In cases where the cancer is particularly malignant, it may only help in easing symptoms by shrinking the tumors slightly. This will ease the excruciating pain that a patient may feel from a tumor and even from the chemotherapy treatment itself.
Chemotherapy Treatment & Its Side Effects
Chemotherapy can have numerous side effects that may range from slight to severe.
- Fatigue and/or weakness
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Greater susceptibility to infection
- Deficiency in white blood cells, which results in a compromised immune system
- Lack of blood clots, which causes bruising (hematoma) and/or bleeding
- Anemia (deficiency in red blood cells)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- A decrease in appetite and unhealthy weight loss
- Gastrointestinal distress, including constipation or diarrhea
- Sores in the mouth and/or throat, which causes difficulty swallowing
- Nerve damage, which causes neuropathic pain
- Liver damage, leading to jaundice (skin and eyes can become yellow)
- Dry skin and/or brittle nails
- Kidney dysfunction (difficulty urinating)
- Inability to concentrate, disorientation, and/or memory impairment
- Anxiety and/or depression
- A decrease in libido and sexual dysfunction
- Changes in the menstrual cycle, infertility, and/or early menopause
- Loss of bone density also referred to as osteoporosis
These side effects depend on the chemotherapy regimen and how aggressive the clinicians must be in order to effectively combat the cancer. In many cases, suffering through the various side effects is simply necessary in order to survive the cancer.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid that is extracted from the cannabis plant. It is similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), except it does not have any psychoactive properties. This means it will not intoxicate the patient. Many patients already feel disoriented and confused from the chemotherapy (also known as chemo brain). They prefer a cannabinoid that has all the benefits of THC, but none of the intoxicating properties. CBD is perfect for these patients because it is beneficial without compromising a person’s ability to carry out their day to day activities.
Benefits Of CBD For Chemotherapy
CBD acts as a powerful complement to conventional treatments like chemotherapy, with holistic benefits that target many ailments.
CBD Has The Following Benefits:
- Reduces the symptoms of nausea and/or vomiting. CBD has powerful anti-nausea effects as well as efficacy in treating vomiting (also known as anti-emetic effects). This allows for the chemotherapy treatments to be better tolerated by the cancer patients. Several studies have found evidence that CBD has anti-nausea and anti-emetic effects that may make chemotherapy treatments more comfortable for patients. CBD has these anti-nausea and anti-emetic effects because it indirectly activates the serotonin 1A receptor (or 5-HT1A receptor) in a part of the brain known as the dorsal raphe nucleus. This area is located in the brainstem, where basic digestive functions are controlled.
- Acts as an effective and non-addictive painkiller. A patient undergoing chemotherapy will likely experience two types of pain. One is caused by cancer itself because the tumor (or tumors) growing inside of them are damaging tissues or organs. This is commonly referred to as nociceptive pain. The other is because chemotherapy may damage neurons and cause neuropathic pain. This type of pain is characterized by stinging, tingling, and numbness. CBD is highly effective in treating both of these types of pain without negatively affecting the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. Research suggests that CBD is able to do this because of its indirect activation of 5-HT1A Serotonin receptors.
- Reduces swelling and/or inflammation. Swelling and inflammation are natural responses in the body to any kind of distress or damage that occurs to tissue. However, a state of excessive inflammation can be very damaging to the body. CBD has extremely powerful anti-inflammatory properties. This is because CBD interacts with a system in the body known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is a communications and control network of receptors throughout the body that controls various functions. CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors and effectively reduces inflammation all over the body.
- Prevent excessive weight loss by stabilizing the appetite. Of the two most prominent cannabinoids (THC and CBD), THC is more known for its appetite-stimulating properties. CBD is more effective at stabilizing the appetite though. It does so, again, by interacting with the ECS and promoting a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis is a state of healthy balance in the human body. Many patients wish to avoid the intoxicating effects of THC, making CBD the preferred option.
Anxiety & Depression
- Effectively treat anxiety and/or depression. Chemotherapy patients often develop mental health conditions. Patients are undergoing a brutal chemotherapy regimen which, if unsuccessful, may result in them dying a painful death. CBD effectively treats anxiety through its interactions with 5-HT1A receptors. These receptors are activated by a neurotransmitter called serotonin. CBD triggers the receptors to absorb serotonin for longer, resulting in less anxiety. CBD also binds to TRPV1 receptors. These receptors have various functions, including pain modulation and control of inflammation. TRPV1 receptors also control a neurotransmitter known as anandamide or the bliss molecule. By binding to these receptors, CBD increases anandamide levels and alleviates depression.
- Targeting tumor cells. All cannabinoids, including CBD, directly target and destroy tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed. CBD also slows down the growth of tumors by inhibiting angiogenesis (the creation of new blood cells). Tumors use these new blood cells to fuel their growth. Cancer cells need oxygen and nutrients like any other cells in the human body.
CBD Chemotherapy Regimen
It is important to notify your clinician if you intend on taking CBD to complement your chemotherapy regimen. This is simply a precaution, though, as CBD has virtually no side effects and is remarkably well tolerated. It is also impossible to overdose from taking too much CBD. A standard starting dose is 15 to 30 milligrams twice a day (once in the morning and once at night). However, because some chemotherapy regimens can be incredibly taxing on a patient’s body and spirit, they may need to take a higher dose. CBD is also most effective when taken as a daily supplement. It is like a supplement that will help the patient feel better, decrease their side effects, and actually, treat their cancer.
It is recommended that patients start at the standard dose and work their way up until they achieve the desired results. Recent research has concluded that patients who had severe pain during chemotherapy saw significant reductions in pain after using CBD supplements.