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Pancreatic cancer: Cannabis compound may boost survival

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that unfortunately has some of the lowest survival rates. A new study in mice suggests that one substance could help address this problem: cannabidiol, a naturally occurring cannabis compound.

Share on Pinterest Researchers look to cannabidiol in the hope of improving survival rates for people with pancreatic cancer.

According to data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in the United States, there will be an estimated 55,440 new cases of pancreatic cancer by the end of this year.

Treatments for this type of cancer include surgical resection (the removal of tissue affected by the cancer), as well as chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the prognosis tends to be poor, with only an 8.5 percent survival rate within 5 years from diagnosis, as per the NCI.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in the United Kingdom, and from Curtin University in Bentley and Perth, Australia, have been making efforts to find a way of increasing survival rates for people diagnosed with this type of cancer.

Recently, Prof. Marco Falasca — of QMUL — and colleagues have conducted a study on a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, investigating an intriguing lead. They wanted to see if administering cannabidiol (CBD) — a naturally occurring component of medical cannabis — alongside chemotherapy medication would improve prognosis following treatment.

“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available,” notes Prof. Falasca.

“Given the [poor] 5-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer […] the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed,” he stresses.

The research team’s findings are now reported in the journal Oncogene.

Pancreatic cancer has a very poor prognosis for survival, but researchers are looking for ways to improve that. Their secret weapon? A cannabis compound.

CBD for Cancer: Can It Help? Maybe, According to Research

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many cannabinoids that can be found in hemp and marijuana, two types of cannabis plants.

CBD may help people with cancer manage some symptoms of the disease, as well as side effects of treatment. Scientists are also looking into how CBD could aid cancer treatment, but more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.

Cannabis, or marijuana, has enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to get you high, but hemp does not. CBD is considered psychoactive, but it’s non-impairing and non-euphoric — unlike THC. However, some CBD products may have trace amounts of THC.

Let’s take a closer look at how CBD may help people with cancer.

There’s solid evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids can reduce tumor growth in animal models of cancer. CBD may also enhance uptake or increase the potency of certain drugs used to treat cancer.

Here are some promising studies:

  • A 2019 review of in vitro and in vivo studies focusing on pancreatic cancer found that cannabinoids can help slow tumor growth, reduce tumor invasion, and induce tumor cell death. The study authors wrote that research into the effectiveness of different formulations, dosing, and precise mode of action is lacking and urgently needed.
  • A 2019 study indicated that CBD could provoke cell death and make glioblastoma cells more sensitive to radiation, but with no effect on healthy cells.
  • A large, long-term study of men within the California Men’s Health Study cohort found that using cannabis may be inversely associated with bladder cancer risk. However, a cause and effect relationship hasn’t been established.
  • A 2014 study in experimental models of colon cancer in vivo suggests that CBD may inhibit the spread of colorectal cancer cells.
  • A 2014 review of 35 in vitro and in vivo studies found that cannabinoids are promising compounds in the treatment of gliomas.
  • Research from 2010 demonstrated the efficacy of CBD in preclinical models of metastatic breast cancer. The study found that CBD significantly reduced breast cancer cell proliferation and invasion.

These are just a few studies addressing the potential of cannabinoids to help treat cancer. Still, it’s far too soon to say that CBD is a safe and effective treatment for cancer in humans. CBD shouldn’t be considered a substitute for other cancer treatments.

Some areas for future research include:

  • the effects of CBD with and without other cannabinoids like THC
  • safe and effective dosing
  • the effects of different administration techniques
  • how CBD works on specific types of cancer
  • how CBD interacts with chemotherapy drugs and other cancer treatments

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can produce an array of side effects, such as nausea and loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss.

Research suggests that cannabinoids may ease neuropathic pain and nausea. THC has shown to improve poor appetite due to cancer and cancer treatment, while CBD can suppress it. CBD is also thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.

So far, only one CBD product has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval .

That product is Epidiolex, and its only use is in the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. No CBD products have been FDA-approved to treat cancer or symptoms of cancer, or to ease side effects of cancer treatment.

On the other hand, two synthetic THC drugs have been approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Dronabinol comes in a capsule (Marinol) and tincture form (Syndros) and contains THC. Nabilone (Cesamet) is an oral synthetic cannabinoid that acts similar to THC.

Another cannabinoid drug, nabiximols, is available in Canada and parts of Europe. It’s a mouth spray containing both THC and CBD and has shown promise in treating cancer pain. It’s not approved in the United States, but it is the subject of ongoing research.

If you’re considering using medical marijuana, talk to your doctor about how best to administer it. Smoking may not be a good choice for people with certain types of cancer.

CBD and other cannabis products come in many forms, including vape, tincture, sprays, and oils. They can also be found in candies, coffee, or other edibles.

CBD is an up-and-coming substance that many consider to be a cure-all. But when it comes to CBD for cancer, there are actually some promising studies. We’ll take a look.