Can CBD complicate cancer treatment?

Last week, I wrote about how CBD can help during cancer treatment. Today, I want to focus on when CBD may not be beneficial during cancer treatment.

But first, we need to cover some basics in case you missed last week’s blog. CBD, or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid, one of many found in the hemp plant. Hemp, a cousin of marijuana, is not psychoactive, meaning you don’t get high when you use CBD as you would marijuana. CBD is complex and there is a lot to learn, so here’s your Ultimate Guide to CBD.

During cancer treatment, CBD is notable as a palliative, or supportive, cancer treatment. Palliative care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and the stress of illness. As we discussed last week, CBD can help relieve some side effects of cancer treatment in a couple ways: taken internally or applied topically. It’s often used to treat these side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fatigue and anemia (low red blood cell counts)

  • Hair loss

  • Immune suppression

  • Neuropathic pain

How does CBD work?

Everyone already has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) with CB1 and CB2 receptors that help maintain homeostasis, or balance, in your body. Although research is being done, experts don’t know all the ins and outs of how the ECS works, but it’s pretty clear that it regulates sleep, mood, appetite, memory and reproduction and fertility. The ECS is active even if you don’t use CBD. Times of stress, such as during an illness, using CBD can help bolster the ECS balance.

The ECS is made up of endogenous endocannabiods, made by your body. There are two key endocannbinoids, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol, with the two receptors, CB1 and CB2 that move them around the body. Endocannabinoids can interact with either receptor, depending on its location. CB1 receptors mainly monitor the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors take peripheral nervous system and more important, the immune system.

When something goes awry in these areas—a toxin invades, stress is heightened or other situations that may throw the system off balance—the receptors get to work and guide the endocannabinoids to where they need to go to restore homeostasis.

However, when something really big comes along, such as cancer and cancer treatment, the ECS may need a bit of help maintaining the body’s usual balance. Enter CBD oil or topicals.

As I noted earlier, it is helpful in easing several side effects, and to learn more about that, check out last week’s blog.

When does CBD complicate treatment?

Before we go any further, let me just say, if you are in cancer treatment, it’s important to include your medical provider in the decision to use CBD. Not all cancer treatments are the same, and CBD has been found to interact poorly with certain medications. It can also inhibit enzymes that metabolize certain drugs.

Also, scientists are still learning about the role of ECS and cancer and whether some cannabinoids stimulate production of cancer cells. So, be prudent and discuss CBD with your medical team. Meanwhile, here are two areas where CBD could complicate cancer treatment.

Immunotherapy and CBD

One thing that isn’t clear is the connection of the immune system and cancer and what part CBD might play in immunotherapy, a treatment for solid tumors. Here’s how immunotherapy works. Patients receive drugs such as Nivolumab, which engages the immune system to kill off cancer cells.

Dr. Chanda Macias, Ph.D. and CEO, National Holistic Healing Center, has spent 15 years working with medical cannabis and recognizes CBD’s potential in cancer treatment. She cautions that because CBD is known to reduce inflammation and could interfere with immune response, it could have a detrimental effect on cancer treatment.

According to Macias, “certain cannabinoids appear to fire up regulatory T-cells, leading to immunomodulation and the inhibition of immune responses, which can dull the effects of immunotherapy—the treatment, which aims to put the immune system into high gear to battle cancerous cells.” Although THC is known to do this, CBD may also suppress the immune system and interfere with immunotherapy. Not enough is really known at this point and more study is needed to know exactly what the effects of CBD are on immunotherapy. Given what we do know, err on the side of caution, and of course, consult your medical providers.

Low-quality CBD

Regardless of claims, not all CBD products are the same. In fact, some products that claim to be CBD don’t even contain CBD. So it’s important to know what you are getting. Do your research and find out about the product you are thinking about using. Find out if:

·      The CBD was organically grown in the United States without pesticides, herbicides, chemicals or toxins.

·      It’s a full-spectrum CBD product, which means it contains all the cannabinoids and compounds found in the hemp plant. In addition, it contains many essential vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, proteins, chlorophyll, fiber, flavonoids and terpenes. Full-spectrum CBD contains dozens of cannabinoids. The most abundant is CBD, which makes up 90% of this full-spectrum oil. Other cannabinoids contained in hemp oil are CBD, CBG, CBN and trace levels of THC (under .2%).

·      How it was extracted. The best, safest method uses carbon dioxide, called CO2 extraction, the method also used for foods and dietary supplements. It’s more expensive but worth it. CO2  extraction removes as much CBD as possible from hemp, using high pressure and extremely low temperatures, so contaminants are introduced. Once the CO2 is no longer under intense pressure, it evaporates without a trace. Cheaper methods often use solvents that leave harmful chemical residue in the oil.

·      If a third-party accredited lab has tested the CBD. Legitimate and reliable companies will let you see lab test results. You’ll know a company that’s accountable if it offers a phone number and responds to calls in a timely manner to give you the information you are looking for.

Although CBD oil is worth looking at as a supplement to bolster your ECS before you become ill, use caution especially when you become seriously ill. Understand what CBD is and what we know it can do, and always consult your medical team. As the interest in CBD grows, more research will be done. Until then, it’s up to you to do the research.

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