Leukaemia is a medical term that defines a group of cancers of the haematopoietic system. They are commonly referred to as leukaemias and there are two forms - the acute form or the chronic form, and the type depends on which type of cells attack. Unfortunately, the disease does not produce any symptoms in the initial phase, and the patient finds out about its existence once he or she has done basic diagnostic tests. This makes treatment most often quite delayed. Leukaemia can, unfortunately, give metastasis, which further complicates therapy. People of all ages, both children and adults, suffer from leukaemia. The treatment for leukaemia depends on how advanced the disease is already, and at most 40% sufferers return to full health.
Cannabinoids in the fight against cancer
Recent studies show that cannabinoids (e.g. THC and CBD), chemicals found in cannabis, can effectively support the treatment of many cancers, including leukaemia. However, it is important that these substances are combined in the right proportions and administered at the right time.
This ability to fight cancer cells is due to their ability to interact with endocannabinoid receptors. Scientists have so far discovered more than 100 cannabinoids, which often have very different properties. The most well-known are:
- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the most psychoactive of them all and found in cannabis and
- cannabidiol (CBD) - has no psychoactive properties, but a whole host of health-promoting and therapeutic properties.
A great deal of research is being carried out in laboratories around the world on the use of cannabinoids in cancer treatment. Already completed in vitro studies and those conducted on animals offer hope that cannabinoids have the ability to inhibit tumour growth by either slowing down tumour growth, blocking the development of blood vessels that promote tumour growth or even promoting the death of diseased cells.
Scientists claim, for example, that THC has the ability to damage or annihilate cancer cells in liver cancer. CBD, on the other hand, is able to abolish estrogen receptor positive and negative breast cancer cells, while healthy tissue remains intact.
Cannabinoids in the fight against leukaemia
Leukaemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs. The fight against it, if only because of its often late detection, must be carried out in multiple ways. Thanks to the fact that the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids have been discovered, some specialists are including them in the treatment process. They rely, for example, on a study conducted by Dr Wai Liu of St George's, University of London in the UK, the results of which were published in the prestigious International Journal of Oncology. He and his team of researchers analysed what the use of cannabinoids might be when combined with existing chemotherapy drugs (cytarabine and vincristine). They tested various combinations of cannabinoids and these drugs and looked for combinations that would be potentially most effective against cancer cells. While conducting the study, the team of researchers also paid particular attention to whether the order in which the specifics were administered affected the final effect.
The conclusions were that CBD and THC used separately show the ability to eradicate leukaemia cells. However, when used in tandem, this ability to knock down cancer cells increases even further. And when the chemotherapy dose is further enhanced with cannabinoids, the effects are even more promising.
The conclusion after these laboratory studies was that combining chemotherapy with THC and CBD cannabinoids produces better results than chemotherapy or cannabinoid therapy alone. Another condition must be met: the cannabinoids must be used after the chemotherapy and not vice versa.
Will CBD aid the treatment of leukaemia?
It is difficult to answer this question unequivocally. Research is still ongoing, and relying on a single laboratory result is a bit too little. It already gives one hope, however, when one reads Dr Wai Liu's conclusions: "We have shown for the first time that the order of use of cannabinoids and chemotherapy is critical in determining the overall efficacy of this treatment [...]. Cannabinoids are a very exciting prospect in oncology".
It is important to bear in mind that, in addition to this study, several hundred other scientific studies on the effects of cannabinoids on cancer treatment have already been carried out up to 2022, and so far there is insufficient confirmation and scientific evidence that cannabinoids safely and effectively treat cancer.
Nevertheless, oncology patients undergoing chemotherapy may use CBD oils if only because of their already known and documented properties, such as those of analgesics, antiemetics, nausea relief or lack of appetite.
It should be borne in mind that the decision to use CBD oil during cancer treatment should absolutely be consulted with a specialist. This is because CBD oils alone do not have any significant side effects, but they can impair the effects of medication already being taken.
- "Anticancer effects of phytocannabinoids used with chemotherapy in leukaemia cells can be improved by altering the sequence of their administration", authors Katherine A. Scott, Angus G. Dalgleish, Wai M. Liu; 2017; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28560402/
- "Cannabis, cannabinoids and cancer - the evidence so far"; https://news.cancerresearchuk.org/2022/05/13/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/