Cancer-related pain affects quality of life, routine activities, eating habits, sleep quality, and even the way you interact with loved ones. Pain management forms an important part of your overall cancer treatment, and opioid pain relievers are notoriously addictive and surprisingly ineffective against chronic pain. Medical cannabis, by contrast, shows promising potential against cancer pain.

Many cancer survivors will enthusiastically attest to the power of medical marijuana and CBD for cancer pain management. Their accounts share common themes: cannabis and CBD oil have been helpful in management of not just cancer and treatment-related pain, but also the side effects that accompany those treatments. It has even been claimed that marijuana can help cure cancer!

Those promises sound shiny and exciting… and maybe a bit too good to be true. Here, we turn to the most recent medical research on the role of CBD for cancer pain management. We’ll discuss the specifics outlined in the study and provide practical guidance for those interested in trying CBD as part of a pain management routine.

Research on CBD for Cancer Pain

Cannabis, which has been used as an herbal remedy for various illnesses for perhaps millennia, is now being embraced by Western medicine as a beneficial treatment for many different symptoms. With the exponential growth of the therapeutic use of cannabis and hemp products, researchers worldwide have engaged themselves in investigation of how cannabis can support the treatment of cancer.

Generally, the studies include both natural and synthetic cannabis products such as hemp oil, cannabis oil, and cannabinoids. Cannabinoids, the active ingredients present in marijuana, are complex substances derived from the cannabis plant. These help in regulation of our body’s biological functions by influencing the endocannabinoid system.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, is helpful in managing the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has the potential to manage conditions such as cancer (and cancer-related pain) without the high THC gives.

Researchers have discovered that our bodies create their own cannabinoid-like chemicals called endocannabinoids. The cannabinoid receptors named CB1 and CB2 are present in different locations in our body and perform various functions when acted upon by endocannabinoids.

The CB1 receptors are concentrated in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are found predominantly in the cells of the immune system. According to the researchers, both the endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are involved in bodily processes like the heartbeat, regulation of the nervous system, pain signaling and perception, immune activity, and reproductive functions. This molecular multitasking allows these two receptors to mediate a wide range of symptoms and conditions ranging from neurodegenerative disorders to cancer. 

Recent Cannabinoid Research: CBD & Cancer

The research on whether cannabinoids can be used to treat cancer is ongoing and urgent. The cancer cells to be used in most of these studies are grown in the laboratory, in vitro. Animal models are also used to study the effect of cannabinoids on cancer cells. Recent research suggests that the cannabinoids have the following effects on cancer cells in the laboratory:

  • Stop cell division 
  • Trigger cell death through the apoptosis process
  • Prevent the spread of cancer cells by stopping cells from affecting the neighboring tissues
  • Accelerate the process of autophagy that leads to cell death

These effects, according to researchers, owe to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Recent experiments conducted by administering high doses of THC to mice seemed to reduce the risk of spreading cancer cells. The use of high doses of THC can thus help in killing cancer cells. Existing scientific research suggests positive results after the use of cannabinoids derived from both cannabis plant and synthetic compounds. 

Complementary Cancer Therapy with CBD Oil

Generally, cancer treatment deteriorates the overall health of the patient, causing severe and often debilitating side effects. In such cases, the use of CBD oil can act as a complementary therapy to make the patient feel better. Most people undergoing cancer treatment claim that cannabis is helpful in management of side effects such as pain, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, and cachexia.

There can be pain associated with cancer treatment, which is almost unbearable due to injury to the nerves, pressure upon the internal organs, and inflammation. Cannabis possesses anti-inflammatory properties and thus treats pain. THC works by acting on CB1 receptors and decreasing the pain that results from nerve damage. Apart from pain reduction, cannabis helps in reducing nausea and increasing appetite.

CBD oil can thus be very beneficial to cancer patients as a complementary treatment because it manages most of the side effects. It helps manage chronic pain, which in turn, enables patients to bear the cancer treatment process in a better way.