Cancer is the largest single health problem in the United States. Survival rates for cancer have improved over the past decade, due to the use of treatments such as chemotherapy. While it can be a life-saver for people with cancer, chemotherapy has a large number of side effects, because chemotherapy drugs can target not only cancer cells, but also healthy cells in the body as well. The National Cancer Institute has documented a number of chemotherapy side effects, including nausea, vomiting, chronic pain, insomnia, and fatigue. Unfortunately, some people find these side effects so severe and discomforting that they end chemotherapy treatment, even if the medications are providing benefits.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is being studied for possible roles in therapeutic regimens, based on laboratory results from animal cancer models, and we will look forward to the results of those studies. Interestingly, researchers are also considering the potential for CBD to be utilized in conjunction with chemotherapy treatments. This line of research makes sense, when one considers that CBD is used as a daily supplement by people who have suffered from similar issues that are not due to chemotherapy.
One exciting area of research related to CBD and chemotherapy involves studies on nausea and vomiting. People undergoing chemotherapy can experience severe nausea and vomiting, to the point that malnutrition becomes a risk. The sensation of nausea involves a complex system of receptors in the body. Among the receptors implicated in nausea are the endocannabinoid receptors, or CB receptors. However, it is important to note that activation of the CB receptors actually seems to suppress the nausea response, according to a review article by Parker et al., originally published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.
Parker et al. stated that CBD can activate the CB receptors, causing them to activate other cells in a part of the brain called the terminal forebrain. In animal studies, CBD-related activation caused rats to show fewer reactions consistent with nausea when compared to a placebo, or even to conventional medications used to treat chemotherapy nausea. Future studies may explore whether these results have implications for humans as well.
Another issue associated with chemotherapy is the experience of neuropathic pain. This type of pain is not caused by something outside of the body. Instead, it is related to damage caused to nerve cells in the body. Ward et al. reported that mice that received both CBD and the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel showed less sensitivity to pain response tests, compared to mice that only received paclitaxel. Again, these findings will need to be replicated in people, but they provide an excellent starting point for future CBD research.
The side effects of chemotherapy can be uncomfortable, and even painful. However, products containing CBD, including topicals and tinctures, could have roles as daily supplements for people undergoing chemotherapy.
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