Tumors and Cannabidiol


Tumors – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

5 January, 2016
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A tumor is an abnormal growth of cells that can potentially be cancerous. Studies have shown cannabis has antitumor effects and can limit tumor growth and encourage cancer cell death.

Overview of Tumors

A tumor is an abnormal mass of body tissue. They can be cancerous or noncancerous. Tumors develop as a result of cells dividing and growing excessively. Cell growth and division is normal, and typically the body manages the creation of new cells to replace older or damaged ones. When proper cell growth and death is disturbed, however, a tumor can result.

The underlying cause of a tumor can be related to a problem with the body’s immune system. Drinking too much alcohol, exposure to environmental toxins, excessive sunlight exposure, genetic problems, obesity, radiation exposure and viruses are also risk factors of cancerous tumors.

The symptoms associated with tumors depend on the tumor’s type and location. Tumors located in the colon, for example, can cause diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, blood in the stool, and iron deficiency anemia. Lung tumors can cause coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Other symptoms of tumors can include chills, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, malaise, night sweats and weight loss. Some tumors, however, may not cause any symptoms until they’re at an advanced stage.

Once a tumor is discovered, a biopsy is used to determine whether the tumor is noncancerous or cancerous. If the tumor is noncancerous, treatment may not be necessary but they may be removed for cosmetic reasons. Cancerous tumors, however, must be treated. Possible treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, biological therapy and targeted cancer therapy.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Tumors

Research has shown that cannabis can help inhibit the growth of, and even kill the cells of, cancerous tumors. One of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), has shown to inhibit the progression of cancers located in the breast, lung, prostate and colon in several animal trials3,7,8,15. CBD has also shown to cause a dramatic drop in both mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and the viability of the cells that make up brain tumors (glioma), thereby having an antiproliferative effect. The administering of CBD to mice has shown to significantly inhibit the growth of subcutaneously implanted human glioma cells6. One study found that administering a combination of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another major cannabinoid found in cannabis, four hours before radiation treatment increased the radiosensitivity of cancer cells, which caused an increase in cell autophagy and apoptosis10.

CBD acid (CBDA), the acidic precursor of CBD, has shown to have the capability of down-regulating invasive human breast cancer cells and therefore preventing their growth11. The same team of researchers later again found CBDA to effectively inhibit the migration of breast cancer cells and identified the cannabinoid’s downregulation of the proto-oncogene c-fox and the enzyme cyclooxygenate-2 to be the mechanisms responsible for its anti-cancer effect12.

Cannabis can also help patients manage the symptoms associated with cancerous tumor treatments, such as nausea and pain15. CBD has shown to be effective at treating the more difficult to control nausea, as well as in preventing anticipatory nausea in patients preparing for chemotherapy5,9. One study found that THC reduced conditioned rejection and chemotherapy-induced nausea4. In cancer patients with intractable pain that had proven intractable to opioids, two weeks of THC and CBD treatments caused significant reductions in pain levels2. A survey found that after six to eight weeks of cannabis treatments, cancer patients experienced significant improvements in all of the measured cancer-related symptoms, which included nausea, vomiting, mood disorders, fatigue, weight loss, anorexia, constipation, sexual function, sleep disorders, itching, and pain1.

The National Cancer Institute, an organization run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, currently recognizes cannabis as an effective treatment for providing relief of a number of symptoms associated with cancer, including pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and loss of appetite.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Tumors

While no states have approved medical marijuana specifically for tumors, nearly all states with medical marijuana programs have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of cancer. These states include:  Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona,California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan,Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Although the state of Maryland hasn’t approved medical marijuana to treat tumors or cancer, it has approved it for the treatment of nausea and chronic pain, which are two symptoms commonly associated with cancer treatment. In addition, in Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Tumors


  1. Bar-Sela, G., Vorobeichik, M., Drawsheh, S., Omer, A., Goldberg, V., and Muller, E. (2013). The Medical Necessity for Medicinal Cannabis: Prospective, Observational Study Evaluating the Treatment in Cancer Patients on Supportive or Palliative Care. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, 510392. Retrieved from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/510392/
  2. Johnson, J.R., Burnell-Nugent, M., Lossignol, D., Ganae-Motan, E.D., Potts, R., and Fallon, M.T. (2010, February). Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC: CBD extract and THC extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 39(2), 167-79.
  3. Ligresti, A., Moriello, A.S., Starowicz, K., Matias, I., Pisanti, S., De Petrocellis, L., Laezza, C., Portella, G., Bifulco, M., and Di Marzo, V. (2006, September). Antitumor activity of plant cannabinoids with emphasis on the effect of cannabidiol on human breast carcinoma. Journal of Pharacologogy and Experimental Therapeutics, 318(3), 1375-87.
  4. Limebeer, C.L., and Parker, L.A. (1999, December 16). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol interferes with the establishment and the expression of conditioned rejection reactions produced by cyclophosphamide: a rat model of nausea. Neuroreport, 10(19), 3769-72.
  5. Machado Rocha, F.C., Stefano, S.C., De Cassia Haiek, R., Rosa Oliveira, L.M., and Da Silveira, D.X. (2008, September). Therapeutic use of Cannabis sativa on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting among cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cancer Care, 17(5), 431-43.
  6. Massi,P., Vaccani, A., Ceruti, S., Colombo, A., Abbracchio, M.P., and Parolaro, D. (2004, March). Antitumor effects of cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, on human glioma cell lines. The Journal of Pharmacology, 308(3), 838-45.
  7. McAllister, S.D., Soroceanu, L., and Desprez, P.Y. (2015, June). The Antitumor Activity of Plant-Derived Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 10(2), 255-67.
  8. Orellana-Serradell, O., Poblete, C.E., Sanchez, C., Castellon, E.A., Gallegos, I., Huidobro, C., Llanos, M.N., and Contreras, H.R. (2015, April). Proapoptotic effect of endocannabinoids in prostate cancer cells. Oncology Reports, 33(4), 1599-608.
  9. Parker, L.A., Rock, E.M., and Limbeer, C.L. (2011, August). Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1411-22.
  10. Scott, K.A., Dalgleish, A.G., and Liu, W.M. (2014, November 14). The combination of cannabidiol and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol enhances the anticancer effects of radiation in an orthotopic murine glioma Model. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-14-0402.
  11. Takeda, S., Okazaki, H., Ikeda, E., Abe, S., Yoshioka, Y, Watanabe, K., and Aramaki, H. (2014). Down-regulation of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) by cannabidiolic acid in human breast cancer cells. The Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 39(5), 711-6.
  12. Takeda, S., Himeno, T., Kakizoe, K., Okazaki, H., Okada, T., Watanabe, K., and Aramaki, H. (2016, August 16). Cannabidiolic acid-mediated selective down-regulation of c-fos in highly aggressive breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells: possible involvement of its down-regulation in the abrogation of aggressiveness. Journal of Natural Medicines, [Epub ahead of print], doi: 10.1007/s11418-016-1030-0.
  13. (2014, August 17). MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001310.htm.
  14. What are Tumors. (2015). John Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/BasicTy.
  15. Wilkie, G., Sakr, B., and Rizack, T. (2016, May). Medical Marijuana Use in Oncology. JAMA Oncology, 2(5), 670-675.

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