Is Cannabis a Potential Lung Cancer Treatment?
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
- What’s in Cannabis?
- How Do You Take Cannabis?
- Potential Uses of Cannabis for Lung Cancer
- Research on Cannabis as a Lung Cancer Treatment
- Cannabis Side Effects
Cannabis, better known to most folks as marijuana or pot, might have the potential to ease pain and other symptoms of lung cancer. But so far, there’s no evidence it can work as a treatment for the disease.
Cannabis is a drug made from the dried leaves and buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. Some people smoke or eat marijuana for the “high” it gives, but it’s also getting a look from experts for the chance that it can play a role in helping with certain medical conditions.
What’s in Cannabis?
The active ingredients in cannabis are chemicals called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) gives the “high” people get when they use marijuana. Cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t cause the same euphoric feeling, but it does relax the body.
Both THC and CBD may help relieve the side effects of cancer and its treatments.
CBD oil is an extract from the hemp plant — a relative of cannabis — mixed with oil. Unlike THC, CBD oil doesn’t cause a high when you use it.
Cannabis and CBD products aren’t FDA-approved to treat lung cancer. They shouldn’t replace proven treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy. If you want to try cannabis for medical purposes, ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you.
How Do You Take Cannabis?
Cannabis products come in a few different forms. You can:
- Breathe them in as smoke or through a vaporizer
- Eat or drink them
- Apply them to your skin as a cream, patch, or spray
Your doctor can suggest a form based on your symptoms and which types of cannabis are legal in your state.
When you smoke marijuana, it goes to work within seconds, but the effects only last for about 1 to 3 hours. When you eat marijuana, it starts to work more slowly, but the effects can last for up to 8 hours.
Potential Uses of Cannabis for Lung Cancer
Cannabis acts on your central nervous system and the immune system — your body’s defense against germs — in ways that could help ease symptoms of lung cancer or its treatment, like these:
Pain. There’s some evidence that marijuana eases pain, both from the cancer itself and from the nerve damage that treatments like chemotherapy can sometimes cause. It might help people who don’t get enough relief from opioid pain medicines.
Nausea and vomiting. Medical marijuana may help relieve these symptoms, which are common chemotherapy side effects. The FDA has approved two man-made cannabinoid drugs to treat nausea and vomiting: nabilone (Cesamet) and dronabinol (Marinol).
These drugs may help when other anti-nausea drugs haven’t worked. Your doctor can give you a prescription for them.
Weight loss. Dropping pounds is a common lung cancer symptom. You may lose weight because you don’t have an appetite, or because your treatment causes nausea and vomiting.
Cancer can sometimes cause muscle loss, called cachexia. Marijuana may also help with this symptom.
Anxiety and sleep. Sleepiness is a side effect of cannabis. If you have cancer, cannabis may improve sleep and ease anxiety.
Research on Cannabis as a Lung Cancer Treatment
Studies done in cells and animals show that cannabis slows or stops the growth of certain cancer cells — including lung cancer cells. But so far, there’s no evidence that it works as a treatment for cancer in people.
There’s also no evidence that CBD oil treats cancer or its symptoms, although it may ease anxiety, pain, and problems with sleep.
Research on marijuana as a cancer treatment has been slow because the federal government considers it an illegal drug. More studies are needed to learn how it might help with lung cancer and other types of cancer.
Cannabis Side Effects
Although medical marijuana is safe overall, it can cause side effects like these:
- Changes in heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Mood changes
Except for the two FDA-approved cannabis drugs, it’s hard to know how much CBD or THC is in the products you buy. How strong the doses are varies with the type you take.
There have been reports of contaminants like lead, pesticides, or dextromethorphan (an ingredient in cough medicines) in cannabis and CBD products. A small number of people have gotten infections after using one of these. People with cancer are already at a higher risk for infections because their immune system is weaker than usual.
CBD oil might also affect how well your cancer drugs work. For these reasons, it’s important to let your doctor know before you use CBD products, even if you can buy them over the counter.
American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Cancer.”
Cancer.Net: “Weight Loss.”
CDC: “How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?”
Harvard Medical School: “Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t.”
Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology: “The antitumor activity of plant-derived non-psychoactive cannabinoids.”
Journal of Thoracic Oncology: “Cannabis Use, Lung Cancer, and Related Issues.”
LungCancer.org: “Medical Marijuana and Cancer.”
Mayo Clinic: “Marijuana.”
MD Anderson Cancer Center: “CBD oil and cancer: 9 things to know.”
National Cancer Institute: “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ) — Health Professional Version.”
National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”
Medical marijuana may relieve some lung cancer symptoms, but whether it treats this cancer is still unknown.
The Benefits of Cannabis Oil for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the United States. Each year, more than 225,000 people receive a diagnosis of lung cancer.
While it’s typically treated with chemotherapy and other targeted therapies, newer research is examining whether cannabis oil could be used in the treatment of lung cancer.
Several small, limited studies suggest it may help stop cancer growth. Meanwhile, the oil is already being used to manage cancer symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatments.
Read on to learn more about what cannabis oil can and can’t do when it comes to lung cancer.
Before getting into the specific benefits of cannabis oil, it’s important to understand the different types of cannabis oil that are available.
Cannabis and hemp plants contain different cannabinoids. These are chemical components that have some effect on you when consumed.
The two most common cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Most tinctures, oils, and cannabis products today contain some ratio of THC and CBD.
THC is the one that produces the “high” most people associate with cannabis. CBD, on the other hand, is typically used for therapeutic purposes.
The main types of cannabis oil include:
- CBD oil. This is a nonpsychoactive cannabis product. It doesn’t contain THC, so it won’t produce a “high.” CBD oil is prized for its therapeutic effects, including easing anxiety, pain, and side effects of chemotherapy.
- Hemp-derived oil. Hemp is very similar to the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t have any THC. It can contain CBD, but its quality is usually considered inferior. Still, hemp-derived oil can be a good option if you live in an area that hasn’t legalized cannabis.
- Marijuana-derived oil. Cannabis oil extracted from the same plant as dried marijuana leaves and buds has a higher ratio of THC. As a result, it has psychoactive effects.
- Rick Simpson oil (RSO).RSO contains high levels of THC with little to no CBD.
When choosing a cannabis oil, make sure to carefully look at the label so you know what ratio of THC to CBD you’re getting.
Experts don’t have a definitive answer, but they’ve found some promising evidence over that last few decades.
For example, a 1975 study reported that THC and another cannabinoid called cannabinol (CBN) slowed the growth of lung cancer in mice.
More recently, a 2014 study found that THC and CBD may help prime cancer cells to respond better to radiation therapy. However, this study was performed in cells, not in animals or humans.
There’s also a 2019 case report about a man who had lung cancer and declined conventional cancer treatment in favor of using CBD oil. His tumor appeared to respond to this alternative treatment.
However, this wasn’t a formal study involving controlled human clinical trials to test safety and efficacy. Many other factors may have played a role in the man’s results. Plus, these results haven’t been replicated in any kind of large-scale study.
Still, other research suggests cannabinoids may have a negative impact on cancer. In a 2004 study, THC actually increased how quickly certain lung and brain cancer cells grew.
So far, there’s not enough evidence to say whether cannabis oil has the potential to cure cancer. Larger, long-term studies in humans are needed to determine whether it works and, if it does, how to use it safely and effectively.
While there’s not enough evidence to suggest that cannabis oil can cure cancer, it may offer relief from a range of lung cancer symptoms, including:
- nerve pain
Cannabis oil, including THC and CBD products, might also help manage the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, such as:
- reduced appetite
In 2018, the United States removed hemp from its list of controlled substances.
This means that hemp-derived oils, which don’t contain THC but offer modest amounts of CBD, are more widely available. But not all states have updated their laws to reflect this federal change.
Marijuana-derived cannabis oil, on the other hand, is still illegal on a federal level. Some states have legalized or decriminalized it. In these states, you can find different types of cannabis oil at dispensaries, which are shops that sell cannabis products.
You can find detailed information about state laws here.
You can also talk with your doctor about dronabinol (Marinol). This pharmaceutical-grade THC medicine is often prescribed to help people manage chemotherapy side effects. It’s legal in the United States, even where marijuana is not.
Cannabis oil may offer some benefits to people with lung cancer, but there are also some overblown claims floating around. We'll get to the bottom of what cannabis oil can and can't do before telling you how to try it yourself.