CBD for chemo side effects

People diagnosed with cancer usually face an array of treatment options. Chemotherapy is often used post-surgery along with radiation therapy. Depending on the stage or severity of the diagnosis, chemo may be a useful tool to help prolong life, but it can also come with unpleasant and difficult side effects. There may be ways to soften or alleviate some of the more common side effects of chemotherapy that include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fatigue and anemia (low red blood cell counts)

  • Hair loss

  • Immune suppression

  • Neuropathic pain

Can CBD ease chemo side effects?

According to a 2016 article in Current Oncology, cannabis, or CBD, can be helpful in treating several cancer treatment symptoms including anorexia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, pain, insomnia, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy and depression. Used widely as medicine for thousands of years, it disappeared from our pharmaceutical options in the 1940s. But evidence prior to that showed CBD was used to treat symptoms as well as the cancer itself.

So, without getting into the politics behind eliminating CBD from our therapeutic arsenal, let’s just fast forward. We know that as helpful as it may be, chemotherapy can often produce nausea, insomnia, depression, loss of appetite and other side effects. Radiation can cause severe burning and blistering in addition to fatigue. Traditional treatment for these side effects is to add even more drugs, which also come with their own side effects. It almost seems like a never-ending vicious cycle.

CBD on the other hand, has few side effects and those are minor. The question is, how to treat symptoms with CBD. Because there is currently no standardized regulation in place, usage and dosing is an inexact science. But that doesn’t mean that CBD can’t be implemented as part of a treatment plan. So, let’s take these possible side effects one at a time to give you an idea of what may work for you.

 CBD oil for chemotherapy
CBD oil for chemotherapy

Before we get into specific symptoms, it’s important to note that everybody already has an endocannabinoid system (ECS), complete with CB1 and CB2 receptors that travel throughout the body to help maintain homeostasis, or balance. In times of illness or stress, it’s a good idea to use high-quality, full-spectrum CBD daily to help the ECS preserve homeostasis, treat symptoms and promote healing.

Nausea and vomiting

Chemotherapy medication can cause nausea and vomiting. It can stimulate regulatory centers in the brain as well as irritate the digestive system. Patients who experience nausea and vomiting also often lose their appetite and have problems with anorexia and weight loss. These symptoms are all problematic for individuals trying to regain their health.

Our ECS produces a cannabinoid called anadamide. When the endocannabinoid system is strong, anadamide stimulates your CB1 receptors to prevent vomiting. But, in high-stress treatment such as chemotherpay, your endocannabinoid system may have trouble keeping up. Enter CBD, which can help control nausea and its incumbent side effects by activating CB1 receptors in the brain to regulate serotonin, which reduces vomiting stimulation.  

An effective dose varies among individuals. Your body weight, in addition to the condition being treated are the two main factors used to determine the correct dosage. Here are some examples. For a 120 lb. individual using CBD to calm anxiety, the recommended dosage is 4-10 mg per day. For a 160 lb. person suffering from chronic pain, the recommendation is 15-20 mg per day. For cancer patients weighing 200 lbs. the recommended dosage is 25-30 mg. per day. In addition, this dosage should be taken twice per day for three to four days to allow the CBD oil to build up in the system. After that, the dosage can be taken once a day. Beyond this point, you can identify your own need to increase or reduce the amount of oil accordingly.

For efficient delivery, drop the CBD oil under the tongue and hold it for 30 to 60 seconds. Doing so gets CBD to the right place faster because the sublingual vein under the tongue carries it quickly to the superior vena cava, a large vein that takes the oil first to the heart and then to the brain. CBD can also be swallowed with a drink or food, but will then have to pass through the digestive system which is slower and a bit more diluted.

Fatigue and anemia

Fatigue during chemotherapy often occurs when your body is working to repair damaged cells and tissue. Anemia ensues if too many healthy red blood cells are destroyed. Both of these side effects can lead to pain, depression and lack of sleep, among others. But, CBD has been shown to help ease depression, improve sleep and reduce pain. In the case of fatigue and anemia, CBD can moderate inflammation, which is often the cause of pain, and change how cells reproduce.

In the case of chronic pain, the inclusion of a CBD topical to specifically target pain or neuropathy is a beneficial adjunct to CBD oil taken internally. Just massage the cream or salve thoroughly into the painful area. Repeat as often as necessary. An added bonus is the moisturizing effect of the CBD topical, which may address dry skin that is also often associated with chemotherapy.

Hair loss

OK, hair loss may not seem like a huge deal, but it can add a psychological and emotional burden to your health. The good news is a study found that when mice were administered CBD after chemotherapy they began to regrow hair rapidly after about 10 days. What actually happens is that CBD can reduce inflammation that often occurs after chemotherapy. Inflammation prevents normal tissue function which is the culprit in many chemotherapy side-effects. So, adding CBD oil as a supplement may reduce inflammation, which in turn can kick-start hair growth, and also ease other symptoms caused by inflammation.

Neuropathic pain

Studies have shown that neuropathic pain, often a chemotherapy side effect, may be reduced with CBD. The symptoms appear as tingling, pain, numbness, and sensitivity to touch and temperature. CBD has been shown to ease symptoms without affecting the nervous system. Nerve pain was also relieved. In these instances using CBD oil with topicals can help stimulate the CB1receptors in the nervous system and CB2 receptors throughout the peripheral body, easing pain by restoring balance. It also can relieve the swelling that often accompanies nerve pain, to further alleviate discomfort.

Radiation therapy

It is worth noting that the initiation of Lost Remedy was inspired by a breast cancer diagnosis of the owner. Already an avid fan of CBD and its effectiveness, she developed the Burn Formula to use during radiation treatment. After researching the side effects of radiation and speaking with others who had undergone treatment, she knew that severe burning and blistering were possible. Using this formula, she was thrilled to make it through seven weeks of radiation with only a mild pinkness. So, if radiation is also part of your therapy, the Burn Formula should be included in your treatment plan. Spread it generously over the radiated area to help avoid burning and blisters and promote healing.

Dosing: start low, go slowly

When using CBD oil, it’s important to understand that everyone will respond differently. Begin with a lower dose and increase as needed. Pay attention to how you respond and either add more, if needed, or cut back the next time. It may take a bit of time to learn how your body reacts. As your body heals and gets stronger, you will probably notice you need less.

Remember to hold the oil under your tongue for 30 to 60 seconds for faster delivery. It will still go where it needs to if you just swallow it, but it will take longer to feel the effects.

When using topicals, dosage is dictated by the amount you spread on the skin. Topicals usually take 10 minutes or longer to take effect. When used topically, the dose isn’t as specific. Just make sure to massage the cream, lotion or salve in completely. Heat from the friction of massaging will help open the pores so the product can penetrate the skin more quickly.

Finally, when you are looking for CBD products, read our FAQs, to know what to look for to get the highest-quality products for your treatment regimen.

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