Could CBD Make Radiation More Effective?

Christine Colbert May 22, 2018 0 comments

Researchers are investigating the possibilities of how CBD could work in tandem with radiation to kill cancer.

As cannabis studies continue to progress, scientists discover more about how cannabis could be used by cancer patients. Building on a growing body of research, a team of doctors in Boston, Mass. have shown that cannabis and radiation therapy combined might potentially help patients with pancreatic and lung cancers.

This research is especially impactful because it sheds light on exactly how cannabis might be used with radiation therapy to make conventional cancer treatments more effective. If the research pans out as scientists hope, this treatment could extend the lives of patients suffering from deadly cancers.

What We Know About CBD and Cancer

Studies have already shown us that cannabinoids can be useful in treating cancer and cancer-related pain. Both cannabinoids THC and CBD have shown promise as instigators of cancer cell apoptosis, otherwise known as cell death. For instance, a study in the British Journal of Pharmacology (2013) showed that CBD exhibited an ability to permeate cells with oxygen-rich elements. This in turn led to apoptosis of prostate carcinoma cells.[1]De Petrocellis, Luciano, et al. “Non-THC Cannabinoids Inhibit Prostate Carcinoma Growth in Vitro and in Vivo: pro-Apoptotic Effects and Underlying Mechanisms.” British Journal of Pharmacology, … Continue reading

In another study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology (2005), researchers concluded that CBD had the potential to slow the growth of glioma tumors and the migration of their cells. In the study, scientists pinpointed the mechanism by which CBD had this effect. They discovered that CBD inhibited metalloproteinases (MMPs). These proteins act as a vehicle for cancer cells to proliferate throughout the body.[2]Vaccani, et al. “Cannabidiol Inhibits Human Glioma Cell Migration through a Cannabinoid Receptor‐Independent Mechanism, British Journal of Pharmacology.” DeepDyve, Wiley Subscription Services, … Continue reading

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Reducing Cancer Cell Proliferation in Radiation Therapy?

A study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (2011) also suggests that there’s potential that the inclusion of cannabis in radiation therapy could reduce breast cancer proliferation. Essentially, cannabis and radiation therapy might achieve this by turning off the body’s Id-1 gene. In this animal study, scientists inhibited the pro-metastatic gene. In doing so, they found that CBD could slow the aggressiveness of this deadly cancer.[3]McAllister, Sean D, et al. “Pathways Mediating the Effects of Cannabidiol on the Reduction of Breast Cancer Cell Proliferation, Invasion, and Metastasis.” Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, … Continue reading

And while these studies have further illuminated how cannabis could be used in cancer treatment, many questions have continued to prevail over how to effectively deliver cannabis treatment.

Lung animation showing left lobe tumor

A New Approach to Administering Cannabinoids

In their study published in Frontiers in Oncology (2018), Boston doctors sought to learn more about how cannabidiol (CBD) could be used to enhance cancer cell apoptosis in mice. Referencing earlier publications hinting at the potential cancer-fighting effects of CBD, this study used previously untried technology.[4]Sayeda, et al. “Enhancing the Therapeutic Efficacy of Cancer Treatment With Cannabinoids.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 29 Mar. 2018, The authors tested to find out if CBD combined with radiation therapy offered an effective treatment. They also used their study to explore how their dosage of CBD could be administered — by using smart biomaterials to deliver the cannabinoid in situ.

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The results showed that a combination of CBD and radiation therapy enhanced tumor cell death. The researchers theorized that such promising results were made possible by CBD’s ability to generate highly potent reactive oxygen species, along with radiation therapy’s ability to damage DNA.

Moreover, the study authors also found that when they targeted their administration of CBD using smart biomaterials, they were able to prolong the exposure of cancer cells to the cannabinoid treatment. Thus they believe they could enhance its overall effectiveness.

Patient Receiving Radiation Therapy

What This Means for Cancer Research

Historically, cancer treatment has employed the use of tools such as radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. However, these treatments also kill healthy cells. By using nanotechnology to create “smart biomaterials,” doctors have been able to better target cancer cells.

In the Boston study, the researchers took this treatment even further.[5]Sayeda, et al. “Enhancing the Therapeutic Efficacy of Cancer Treatment With Cannabinoids.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 29 Mar. 2018, By employing special modifications, researchers delivered CBD to tumor sites at precise intervals over an extended period of time. This kind of prolonged exposure mades a considerable difference in the survival rate of the mice in the study. One-hundred percent of the cancer medicine went where the researchers intended it to go — directly to the tumor site.

The authors noted that this delivery system seemed to be more effective than oral and inhalation methods of administration. It also led to fewer adverse effects and/or toxicities. They also found that CBD mediated analgesia. This means that it could help with cancer-related pain. This is consistent with at least one other study that concluded CBD could alleviate the pain of cancer.[6]Agarwal, Nitin, et al. “Cannabinoids Mediate Analgesia Largely via Peripheral Type 1 Cannabinoid Receptors in Nociceptors.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 10 June 2007, … Continue reading

What’s Next – More Research on Cannabis and Radiation Therapy

Cannabis and radiation therapy progresses every day. As it does, we can expect to learn more about how cannabinoids like CBD and THC may slow the progression of cancer cells. And by potentially contributing to the treatment of cancer-related symptoms such as pain, nausea, and vomiting, cannabis is proving to be an effective ally in the fight against cancer.

However, many of these studies take place in vitro, or on mice. This necessitates more research – especially human trials. Human clinical trials will fully ascertain how well these results translate in actual cancer patients. And, as we’ve seen so far, that process may present a long road ahead.