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CBD Oil for Leukemia Symptoms and Side Effects: Can It Help?

Posted on August 04, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a derivative of cannabis (also known as marijuana). In some circles, CBD oil is promoted as a treatment for improving sleep, reducing pain, and alleviating anxiety in people with various types of cancer, like leukemia, and other health conditions. However, research on CBD oil’s health benefits is limited.

Despite its popularity, CBD oil isn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cancer treatment. Nonetheless, many people with leukemia and other health conditions find it helpful for managing their symptoms and treating side effects. State laws vary regarding the specific types of CBD products available either over the counter or with a prescription. Here’s what you should know before experimenting with CBD oil for leukemia.

What Is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol is one of the primary active compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant, also known as hemp or marijuana. Whereas tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the high associated with marijuana use, CBD doesn’t produce psychoactive effects. Instead, it has other effects on the central nervous system and immune system, potentially improving a person’s quality of life during leukemia treatment.

CBD oil is found in various forms, including:

  • Liquid for vaping
  • Topical skin creams
  • Sublingual (under-the-tongue) drops
  • Teas and other beverages
  • Supplements
  • Food products (sometimes called edibles), including baked goods and candies

How CBD May Help With Leukemia

Advocates of CBD oil promote it for treating a wide range of health issues, including anxiety, insomnia, low appetite, pain, and fatigue. People with leukemia can experience these very types of symptoms, which can negatively affect their quality of life due to insufficient sleep, ongoing discomfort, and unwanted weight loss.

Always talk to your health care provider before using CBD products to address cancer symptoms or the side effects of cancer treatment.

Sleep

Members of MyLeukemiaTeam often discuss their struggles to get a good night’s sleep. Whether it’s the stress and anxiety of having leukemia or other factors keeping you awake, finding solutions to sleep better can make a world of difference.

One member wrote: “I talked to the nurse practitioner about insomnia and was a bit surprised when she suggested CBD mints with a little THC. Do any of you use CBD for sleep?”

A member responded, “I use it when I need it, and it definitely works.”

Another said, “CBD all around is great. It helps a lot. CBD helps with pain, appetite, and relaxation. I think you would benefit from it. I was not sure at first, but I’m glad I tried it.”

According to Sleep Foundation, there’s not much research about CBD’s effectiveness in helping with sleep. However, the foundation notes, preliminary research shows that CBD can help with sleep issues such as insomnia and REM sleep behavior disorder, that it can improve sleep, and that it can reduce anxiety.

Pain

Some people use CBD oil as an alternative to stronger chronic pain medications or for additional relief. One MyLeukemiaTeam member shared: “I use a small amount of CBD with no THC. It was recommended by my pain doctor. I use 1,000 milligrams. It really helps me with the bone pain and my back fracture pain.”

There is some research to support using cannabis products for pain relief. A 2017 meta-analysis of 24 randomized controlled trials suggested that cannabis-based medicines may help alleviate neuropathic pain — that is, pain caused by damage or dysfunction in the nervous system.

Some health care professionals are hopeful that CBD formulations may replace opioids as a treatment for chronic pain management, but the research is still young. Studies show that activating cannabinoid receptors enhances the pain-relieving effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Nausea

CBD and other cannabinoids have been in use for appetite stimulation and nausea since the 1980s. But according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, there’s not enough evidence to recommend medical marijuana to prevent nausea associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, the FDA has approved three cannabinoid medications — Marinol and Syndros (formulations of dronabinol) and Cesamet (a formulation of nabilone) — to treat nausea and vomiting. They may also help prevent unintentional weight loss.

It’s unclear whether unregulated CBD oil products would provide similar benefits as prescription cannabis-derived medications. Your health care team can help you decide whether cannabis-based medicine is appropriate for you.

Cancer Treatment

Researchers have also examined the potential anticancer effects of CBD in acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment. Animal studies show CBD’s ability to enter cells, possibly promoting the targeted destruction of tumor cells. Interestingly, noncancerous cells show resistance to CBD, suggesting that CBD kills cancer cells with limited effects on healthy cells. CBD isn’t a viable alternative to conventional treatment for leukemia.

CBD Risks and Side Effects

Although CBD doesn’t induce a high the way THC does, it can still cause side effects in some people. These include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue

Additionally, according to Cancer.Net, some studies have found that CBD can have a negative effect on the way a person’s body processes certain medications.

Finally, CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA (aside from the aforementioned FDA-approved medications). This means the agency hasn’t evaluated them for treatment effectiveness, proper dosage, side effects, or other safety concerns.

Moreover, according to the FDA, there are no set processing controls or practices in place to ensure a given CBD product contains the advertised amount of CBD or that it doesn’t contain unsafe levels of contaminants like pesticides or heavy metals.

Where Can I Find CBD Oil?

Before purchasing CBD products in a store or online, talk to your health care provider. Your leukemia specialist can help you understand the laws in your state and let you know if CBD oil may interact with your current treatments or medication. They may also recommend clinical trials studying cannabinoids for your specific condition.

Members of MyLeukemiaTeam have expressed interest in CBD by reaching out to the community for advice. One member asked, “What are everyone’s thoughts on medical cannabis to control some of the side effects of the meds we take for leukemia and the residual effects of the disease itself?”

“It works great for me. But get it from your doctor or pharmacy,” another member replied. “Do NOT get it on your own online. There are way too many frauds out there. My GERD has also improved tremendously. Additionally, it helps a lot with pain. Please be sure to notify all your doctors you are taking CBD.”

Speaking to your health care team about your interest in CBD can open up a conversation about your current symptoms and concerns. If CBD oil isn’t the best option, your provider may prescribe something more effective or refer you to other specialists, like dietitians or physical therapists, who can help.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLeukemiaTeam is the social network for people with leukemia and their loved ones. More than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share stories with others who understand life with leukemia.

Have you tried CBD oil or other alternative treatments to help with leukemia? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLeukemiaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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