Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis. Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer. Studies show that CBD may be beneficial for patients with leukemia. People are using cannabis to treat different types of cancer as an adjunctive therapy; is CBD a viable option to force the disease into remission? Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation This is an Open Access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Cannabis, CBD oil and cancer
Cannabis is a plant and a class B drug. It affects people differently. It can make you feel relaxed and chilled. But it can also make you:
- feel sick
- affect your memory
- make you feel lethargic
CBD oil is a chemical found in cannabis.
- Cannabis has been used for centuries recreationally and as a medicine.
- It is illegal to possess or supply cannabis as it is a class B drug in the UK.
- Research is looking at the substances in cannabis to see if it might help treat cancer.
- There are anti sickness medicines that contain man-made substances of cannabis.
What are cannabis and cannabinoids?
Cannabis is a plant. It is known by many names including:
The plant produces a resin that contains several substances or chemicals. These are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can have medicinal effects on the body.
The main cannabinoids are:
- Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
THC is a psychoactive substance that can create a ‘high’ feeling. It can affect how your brain works, changing your mood and how you feel.
CBD is a cannabinoid that may relieve pain, lower inflammation and decrease anxiety without the psychoactive ‘high’ effect of THC.
Different types of cannabis have differing amounts of these and other chemicals in them. This means they can have different effects on the body.
Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK. This means that it is illegal to have it, sell it or buy it.
CBD oil, cannabis oil and hemp oil
There are different types of oil made from parts of the cannabis plant. Some are sold legally in health food stores as a food supplement. Other types of oil are illegal.
CBD oil comes from the flowers of the cannabis plant and does not contain the psychoactive substance THC. It can be sold in the UK as a food supplement but not as a medicine. There is no evidence to support its use as a medicine.
Cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves and stalks of the cannabis plant. Cannabis oil often contains high levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC. Cannabis oil is illegal in the UK.
Hemp oil comes from the seeds of a type of cannabis plant that doesn’t contain the main psychoactive ingredient THC. Hemp seed oil is used for various purposes including as a protein supplement for food, a wood varnish and an ingredient in soaps.
Why people with cancer use it
Cannabis has been used medicinally and recreationally for hundreds of years.
There has been a lot of interest into whether cannabinoids might be useful as a cancer treatment. The scientific research done so far has been laboratory research, with mixed results, so we do not know if cannabinoids can treat cancer in people.
Results have shown that different cannabinoids can:
- cause cell death
- block cell growth
- stop the development of blood vessels – needed for tumours to grow
- reduce inflammation
- reduce the ability of cancers to spread
Scientists also discovered that cannabinoids can:
- sometimes encourage cancer cells to grow
- cause damage to blood vessels
Cannabinoids have helped with sickness and pain in some people.
This means a cannabis based product used to relieve symptoms.
Some cannabis based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. The following medicines are sometimes prescribed to help relieve symptoms.
Nabilone is a drug developed from cannabis. It is licensed for treating severe sickness from chemotherapy that is not controlled by other anti sickness drugs. It is a capsule that you swallow whole.
Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine. It is licensed in the UK for people with Multiple Sclerosis muscle spasticity that hasn’t improved with other treatments. Sativex is a liquid that you spray into your mouth.
Researchers are looking into Sativex as a treatment for cancer related symptoms and for certain types of cancer.
How you have it
Cannabis products can be:
- ingested (eating or drinking)
- absorbed through the skin from a patch
- applied as a cream
- applied as a spray
CBD oil comes as a liquid or in capsules.
Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:
- increased heart rate
- blood pressure problems
- mood changes
- memory problems
Cannabis that contains high levels of THC can cause panic attacks, hallucinations and paranoia.
There are also many cannabis based products available online without a prescription. The quality of these products can vary. It is impossible to know what substances they might contain. They could potentially be harmful to your health and may be illegal.
Research into cannabinoids and cancer
We need more research to know if cannabis or the chemicals in it can treat cancer.
Clinical trials need to be done in large numbers where some patients have the drug and some don’t. Then you can compare how well the treatment works.
Many of the studies done so far have been small and in the laboratory. There have been a few studies involving people with cancer.
Sativex and temozolomide for a brain tumour (glioblastoma) that has come back
In 2021, scientists reported the final results of a phase 1 study to treat people with recurrent glioblastoma (a type of brain tumour that has come back). The study looked at Sativex in combination with the chemotherapy drug temozolomide.
Researchers found that adding Sativex caused side effects, which included, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and headache but patients found the side effects manageable.
They also observed that 83 out of 100 people (83%) were alive after one year using Sativex, compared to 44 out of 100 people (44%) taking the placebo.
However, this phase 1 study only involved 27 patients, which was too small to learn about any potential benefits of Sativex. The study wanted to find out if Sativex and temozolomide was safe to take by patients.
Researchers have now started a larger phase 2 trial called ARISTOCRAT, to find out if this treatment is effective and who might benefit from it. Speak to your specialist if you want to take part in a clinical trial.
Sativex and cancer pain
There are trials looking at whether Sativex can help with cancer pain that has not responded to other painkillers.
The results of one trial showed that Sativex did not improve pain levels. You can read the results of the trial on our clinical trials website.
Cancer and nausea and vomiting
A cannabis based medicine, Nabilone, is a treatment for nausea and vomiting.
A Cochrane review in 2015 looked at all the research available looking into cannabis-based medicine as a treatment for nausea and sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer. It reported that many of the studies were too small. Or not well run to be able to say how well these medicines work. They say that they may be useful if all other medicines are not working.
A drug called dexanabinol which is a man-made form of a chemical similar to that found in cannabis has been trialled in a phase 1 trial. This is an early trial that tries to work out:
- whether the drug works in humans
- what the correct dose is
- what the side effects might be
The results are not available yet. You can read about the trial on our clinical trials database.
Word of caution
Cannabis is a class B drug and illegal in the UK.
There are internet scams where people offer to sell cannabis preparations to people with cancer. There is no knowing what the ingredients are in these products and they could harm your health.
Some of these scammers trick cancer patients into buying ‘cannabis oil’ which they then never receive.
You could talk with your cancer specialist about the possibility of joining a clinical trial. Trials can give access to new drugs in a safe and monitored environment.
The science blog on our website has more information about cannabis and cancer.
CBD Oil for Leukemia: Benefits, Effects & How to Use
Did you know that cannabis compounds like THC and CBD may alleviate the symptoms of cancer — and even kill the malignant cells while protecting the healthy ones?
The anti-cancer benefits of cannabis have been regularly demonstrated in laboratory conditions, on animal models, and in preclinical human trials. Not only do cannabinoids produce therapeutic effects on tumors, but they also help mitigate certain side effects of conventional treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and radiation).
It’s no wonder why so many people are turning to CBD for different types of cancer, including leukemia, the so-called silent killer. How exactly does CBD help leukemia patients? Can you use it on its own or only as an adjunctive treatment?
In this article, we explain the mechanism of action and cover the recent studies regarding CBD and leukemia.
Benefits of CBD for Leukemia
CBD oil has a dense nutritional content that may help ease the symptoms of leukemia among other health conditions. Full-spectrum hemp extracts contain particularly high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, proteins, and essential fatty acids on top of terpenes, terpenoids, and minerals. All these compounds may promote optimal health.
CBD might also have anti-cancer effects that have the potential to stop the growth of malignant cells. However, it’s important to remember that there’s a lack of clinical trials in this area, and the majority of the research comes from animal models and human case reports.
That being said, below we outline some of the ways in which CBD might be useful for leukemia.
CBD Triggers Apoptosis in Cancer Cells
Apoptosis is a process where the body naturally destroys harmful cells to help maintain homeostasis. As mentioned in the previous sections, leukemia results from the abnormal production of immature white blood cells that stuff the lymphatic system and the blood, making it difficult for other types of essential blood cells to grow.
Studies have found that CBD oil packs potent anti-cancer properties that may help reduce the rate at which the malignant cells spread. Moreover, CBD signals the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce more of its therapeutic messengers (endocannabinoids) to restore the state of homeostasis. Through apoptosis, CBD is able to eliminate cancer cells in human leukemia (1).
Cannabinoids also interact with the CB2 receptors that are widely present in the immune system. This interaction helps the body distinguish between useful and detrimental cells. It also triggers ceramide and sphingolipid synthesis, triggering the death of unhealthy cells (2).
CBD’s affinity with CB2 receptors may also help produce immunomodulatory effects, optimizing the activity of the immune system. Researchers have highlighted CBD as an antitumorigenic agent that inhibits the reproduction of cancer cells (3). Doing so enables it to control the number of leukemia-affected cells and makes space for the growth of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
CBD Helps Nourish Healthy Cells
As mentioned above, CBD may be a good source of essential nutrients required for healthy cell development (4). These include terpenoids, flavonoids, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and proteins. Consuming a full-spectrum CBD extract suspended in a carrier fat like MCT oil may increase your intake of many of these compounds.
Nutrients, especially amino acids and vitamins, are paramount for the formation of healthy blood cells. According to various health experts and medical researchers, increasing the bioavailability of these high-quality nutrients may decrease the chance of cell mutation while keeping the healthy cells protected against damage.
Considering the above, CBD oil may be able to lay the ground for healthy white cell production by creating the right environment for them to thrive.
Studies have also found that CBD may be useful in relieving the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including:
- Inflammation and pain
- Insomnia and sleep deprivation
What to Know About Leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects white blood cells. It starts to develop in the bone marrow, where it causes abnormal growth of these cells, mutating and multiplying in number. White blood cells regulate the performance of the immune system by fighting disease-causing bacteria.
Leukemia causes kind of a chain reaction in the body. The excess white cells are under-developed and thus serve no purpose in the body. However, abnormal production disrupts the growth of other important blood cells, such as platelets, red blood cells, etc. A lower red blood count (RBC) can further put a person’s health at risk since red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen, food nutrients, and other vital components to various parts of the body.
Researchers haven’t yet identified the cause of leukemia, but there are several factors that can spur its development, including:
- Poor diet
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Genetic burden
According to statistics, more than 75% of reported leukemia cases refer to children.
Types of Leukemia
There are several types of leukemia depending on the type of white blood cells affected and the rate at which it deteriorates.
The four major types of leukemia are:
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
Below we share a brief overview of each.
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
AML triggers the body to produce too many white blood cells known as myelocytes. Leukemia starts building up in your bone marrow and blood, leaving less space for the healthy blood cells. The symptoms of AML include infections, anemia, and easy bleeding. AML is more common in men than in women. It also affects kids, but the prevalence of AML increases with age.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
ALL stimulates the excess production of lymphocytes. These white blood cells can’t fight infection effectively, building up in your bone marrow and blood, reducing the room for your healthy blood cells. Similar to AML, this type of leukemia may cause easy bleeding, anemia, and infections. ALL typically shows up and worsens in a very short time span.
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
CML causes the same symptoms as AML and ALL. It deteriorates slowly and affects more men than women. CML is most common in adults over 50s; it rarely affects children.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)
This is the chronic form of ALL and involves the same reaction as the other leukemia types. It commonly affects adults in their 60s and over. Women are less likely to develop CLL than men. Patients with CLL are more exposed to infections due to a poorly functioning immune system.
Symptoms of Leukemia
- Bone pain
- Easy bruising
- Easy bleeding
- Enlarged spleen
- Feeling full or bloated
- Fever and chills
- Frequent infections
- Night sweats
- Physical weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen or enlarged gums
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Unusual pallor
- Weight loss
Current Treatments & Their Side Effects
Before recommending a treatment protocol for leukemia, doctors run several examinations to diagnose the condition. Usually, a complete blood count and tissue biopsy from your bone marrow are performed.
Treatments for leukemia vary from radiation to chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant; each of them is effective to some extent, but it also has side effects that can cause the patient to feel more miserable than cancer itself. They may cause severe pain, nausea, depression, loss of appetite, disrupt your sleep, and trigger anxiety.
Common leukemia treatments include:
- Chemotherapy – chemo is the go-to treatment for many types of cancer, including leukemia. It uses chemicals that kill leukemia cells and can be administered in one dose or as a mixture of drugs depending on what type of leukemia you’re struggling with. Chemotherapy may come as an injection or a pill.
- Biological Therapy – this form of treatment helps your immune system identify leukemia cells and eliminate them. Side effects of biological therapy include fever, chills, fatigue, changes in blood pressure, and overall weakness.
- Targeted Therapy – targeted therapies are aimed to attack specific cancer cell cultures. For instance, Gleevec, a commonly used targeted therapy, inhibits protein action in leukemia cells when you suffer from chronic myelogenous leukemia. There’s a risk of side effects such as high blood pressure, skin problems, and gastrointestinal perforation.
- Radiation Therapy – radiation uses high-energy beams like X-rays that destroy leukemia cells and prevent further proliferation of cancer. Your doctor may recommend radiation over your entire body or just a specific area if there’s a higher concentration of leukemia cells. The doctor may apply radiation therapy before a stem cell transplant to prepare you for the surgery.
- Stem Cell Transplant – this procedure replaces unhealthy bone marrow with a healthy one. Patients receive a high dose of radiation therapy or chemotherapy before their stem cell transplant to remove unhealthy bone marrow. An infusion with stem cells is then applied to form blood that rebuilds the bone marrow.
Are There Any Risks & Side Effects of Using CBD for Leukemia?
CBD is an acknowledged adaptogenic compound with minimal side effects. Many international health agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), have reported that CBD is well tolerable in humans, even in doses as high as 1,500 daily over the course of several weeks. When taken in regular doses, CBD oil doesn’t have adverse reactions. However, large doses may cause the following side effects:
- Dry mouth
- Appetite fluctuation
CBD-induced drug interaction is another concern for patients with leukemia. CBD inhibits the activity of the cytochrome p450, a system of enzymes that metabolize active ingredients in medications. If you take any medication that has a grapefruit warning on it, you probably shouldn’t take it along with CBD oil. Consult a doctor to reduce the likelihood of such events.
How to Use CBD for Leukemia?
CBD comes in many different forms. Its potential to reduce the symptoms of various health conditions can make it challenging to find the right delivery method. Here we highlight some of the most common methods of consuming CBD for leukemia:
- CBD Oil – CBD oil is a sublingual product that involves putting the CBD extract under the tongue and allowing it to stay for up to 60 seconds before swallowing. The sublingual route of administration allows the CBD to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It is considered the most effective way of delivering CBD into the system of all methods that avoid inhalation. Sublingual CBD comes in three types of products: oil drops, tinctures, and sprays.
- CBD Capsules – oral products like capsules are the most popular form of CBD among on-the-go users. If you live a busy lifestyle and don’t have the time to measure out your doses with a dropper — but instead prefer a fixed dose of CBD per serving — capsules are a decent alternative to oils. CBD capsules are also odorless and tasteless, so you don’t have to deal with the botanical aftertaste. However, since capsules need to pass through the digestive system, they act slower than oils, usually within 40–90 minutes after application.
- CBD Edibles – CBD is infused into a lot of foods and drinks nowadays. You can choose between gummies, honey sticks, protein bars, chocolates, and beverages like tea or coffee. Edibles offer the most enjoyable way to consume CBD, but similar to capsules, they have a delayed onset and may lose some of their potency on their way to the bloodstream due to the first-pass metabolism in the liver.
- CBD Vapes – vaporized CBD reaches your system through inhalation. Once you pull the CBD vapor into your lungs, it will absorb into the bloodstream through the lung tissue, ensuring fast-acting effects and high availability for the body. The vape pen heats the CBD liquid to the point where it releases cannabinoid-rich vapor, avoiding combustion. The effects of vaporized CBD are usually felt within minutes, but they have the shortest duration, up to 3–4 hours.
- CBD Topicals – when you apply CBD topically, it interacts with the cannabinoid receptors that are located in the skin’s epidermis layer. From there, it produces its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, contributing to less pain in leukemia patients. Topicals are available as creams, balms, gels, lotions, and salves; their absorption rate and duration of effects vary depending on the formulation. People commonly use them for skincare, but some people also claim to find relief from painful flare-ups during leukemia.
CBD Dosage for Leukemia
Dosing CBD is a tricky job for several reasons.
First, everybody is different; your age, gender, weight, metabolism, eating habits, and severity of your leukemia symptoms will all influence your effective dosage range. According to some researchers, a low dose of CBD ranges from less than 1 mg to 50 mg/kg/day.
The good news is that you can’t fatally overdose on CBD, so experimenting with different doses isn’t a risky business. Nevertheless, if you want to make sure you’re not wasting too much CBD, we recommend that you start low and slow. Start with 10 mg of CBD twice daily and observe the effects for one week. If you don’t feel any difference in your symptoms, increase the dosage, and continue for the next few days. Adjust the dose until you find the one that works for you.
If you’re thinking of adding CBD oil to your anti-leukemia regime, consult this idea with a holistic doctor experienced in cannabis use. Doing so will help you determine the effective dose and avoid the aforementioned CBD-drug interactions.
Summarizing the use of CBD for Leukemia
CBD may be an effective treatment for the symptoms and side-effects of leukemia and its conventional treatments as it also gives an anti-nausea effect. CBD and other cannabinoids are also useful in many other types of cancer. However, the subject is still under-researched when it comes to human trials, so doctors don’t recommend using CBD as a replacement for leukemia therapy.
When browsing through different CBD products, make sure to choose a high-quality CBD oil from a reputable brand. Despite the boom in CBD and cannabis in general, the market remains unregulated due to the particular classification of hemp-derived CBD as health supplements. Be sure to talk to your physician for professional advice regarding the consumption method, CBD dosage, and potential contraindications.
- McKallip, Robert J et al. “Cannabidiol-induced apoptosis in human leukemia cells: A novel role of cannabidiol in the regulation of p22phox and Nox4 expression.” Molecular pharmacology vol. 70,3 (2006): 897-908. doi:10.1124/mol.106.023937
- Nichols, James M, and Barbara L F Kaplan. “Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 5,1 12-31. 27 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1089/can.2018.0073
- Scott, Katherine A et al. “Anticancer effects of phytocannabinoids used with chemotherapy in leukemia cells can be improved by altering the sequence of their administration.” International journal of oncology vol. 51,1 (2017): 369-377. doi:10.3892/ijo.2017.4022
- Pagano, Stefano et al. “Biological effects of Cannabidiol on normal human healthy cell populations: Systematic review of the literature.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedicine & pharmacotherapies vol. 132 (2020): 110728. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110728
Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation
This is an Open Access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC) (www.karger.com/OA-license), applicable to the online version of the article only. Users may download, print and share this work on the Internet for noncommercial purposes only, provided the original work is properly cited, and a link to the original work on http://www.karger.com and the terms of this license are included in any shared versions.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the white blood cells and is typically well treated with combination chemotherapy, with a remission state after 5 years of 94% in children and 30–40% in adults. To establish how aggressive the disease is, further chromosome testing is required to determine whether the cancer is myeloblastic and involves neutrophils, eosinophils or basophils, or lymphoblastic involving B or T lymphocytes. This case study is on a 14-year-old patient diagnosed with a very aggressive form of ALL (positive for the Philadelphia chromosome mutation). A standard bone marrow transplant, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy were revoked, with treatment being deemed a failure after 34 months. Without any other solutions provided by conventional approaches aside from palliation, the family administered cannabinoid extracts orally to the patient. Cannabinoid resin extract is used as an effective treatment for ALL with a positive Philadelphia chromosome mutation and indications of dose-dependent disease control. The clinical observation in this study revealed a rapid dose-dependent correlation.
Presentation of the Case
A 14-year-old female, P.K., presented with symptoms of weakness, shortness of breath and bruising when she was taken to the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada, on the 10th March 2006. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), with >300,000 blast cells present. Acute chemotherapy followed by a standard chemotherapy regimen went on for 6 months after the diagnosis. Upon further analysis, she was found to be positive for the Philadelphia chromosome mutation. A mutation in the Philadelphia chromosome is a much more aggressive form of ALL. When standard treatment options were unsuccessful, a bone marrow transplant was pursued. She successfully received the transplant in August 2006 and was able to be released from isolation 45 days later. She was observed posttransplant by following the presence of blast cells, noted 6 months after treatment. Consequently, in February 2007, aggressive chemotherapy procedures (AALL0031) were administered along with a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, imatinib mesylate (Gleevac), 500 mg orally twice a day. In November 2007, 9 months after the transplant, the presence of premature blast cells was observed and it was determined that another bone marrow transplant would not be effective. In February 2008, in an effort to sustain the patient, another tyrosine kinase inhibitor, disatinib (Sprycel), was administered at 78 mg twice a day with no additional rounds of chemotherapy. The patient experienced increased migraine-like headaches in June 2008. After conducting a CT scan of the head in July 2008, cerebellitis was noted. It was assumed by the primary oncologist that the blast cells could have infiltrated the CNS and be present in the brain, although none were noted in the blood. By October 2008, ten treatments of radiation therapy had been administered to the brain.
On the 4th February 2009, blood was noted in the patient’s stools and a blood cell count revealed the presence of blast cells. As a result, all treatment including the disatinib was suspended and the patient’s medical staff acknowledged failure in treating her cancer. It was charted by the patient’s hematologist/oncologist that the patient ‘suffers from terminal malignant disease. She has been treated to the limits of available therapy… no further active intervention will be undertaken’. She was placed in palliative home care and told to prepare for her disease to overwhelm her body and from which she would suffer a stroke within the next 2 months.
After this, disease progression was observed with rising counts of blast cells. The patient was receiving frequent blood transfusions and platelets during this period. Through research conducted by the patient’s family, it was observed, in a particular paper by Guzman  published in Nature Reviews Cancer, that cannabinoids have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in culture and in animal models by modulating key cell-signaling pathways. Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated and do not produce the generalized toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. The family found promise in an organization known as Phoenix Tears, led by Rick Simpson who had treated several cancers with hemp oil, an extract from the cannabis plant. Rick worked with the family to help them prepare the extract.
From the 4th to the 20th of February, the patient’s blast cell count had risen from 51,490 to 194,000. The first dose of cannabinoid resin, also referred to as ‘hemp oil’, was administered orally (1 drop about the size of half a grain of rice) at 6:30 a.m. on the 21st February 2009 (day 0 in fig. fig.1). 1 ). A 2-ounce Cannabis indica strain (known as ‘Chronic Strain’) was used to extract 7.5 ml of hemp oil using 1.2 liters of 99%-isopropyl-alcohol solution, which was boiled off in a rice cooker. Immediately after the dosing, the patient attempted to vomit; nausea had been observed previously and is common with this condition. To deal with the bitter taste and viscous nature of the hemp oil, it was suspended in honey, a known natural digestive aid, and then administered to the patient in daily doses. The objective was to quickly increase the frequency and amount of the dose and to hopefully build up the patient’s tolerance to cannabinoid resin (refer to fig. fig.1). 1 ). The patient was observed to have periods of panic early on during administration of the hemp oil, along with increased appetite and fatigue.
Blast cell counts, days 0–15: Chronic Strain.
The blast cell count reached a peak of 374,000 on the 25th February 2009 (day 5), followed by a decrease, which correlated with the increasing dose. The daily dosing is the amount administered per dose; the doses were initially given once per day up to a total of 3 times per day by day 15, and were continued with the same average frequency throughout the treatment. A decreased use of morphine for pain, an increase in euphoria symptoms, a disoriented memory and an increase in alertness were observed; these are typical with cannabinoid use.
After day 15, the original Chronic Strain had been consumed and administration of a new strain (referred to as Hemp Oil #2) was started. This was obtained by the family from an outside source. It was noted that administering the same dose yielded a decreased response in terms of the side effects of euphoria and appetite, and the patient suffered more nausea with this hemp oil. The blast cells began to increase, demonstrated in figure figure2 2 .
Blast cell counts, days 18–39: Hemp Oil #2.
There is a wide amount of variance in cannabinoid concentration amongst different strains and even in the same strain with changes in growing conditions. The amount of each dose was increased to match the response of the blast cells that had been declining previously (fig. (fig.1). 1 ). After day 27, there was another peak blast cell count of 66,000 followed by a rapid decrease. There were elevated levels of urate present in the blood with corresponding joint pain; it was established that this was caused by tumor lysis syndrome of the blast cells. Allopurinol was administered.
On the 1st April 2009 (day 41), an infected central line with tunnel infection was noted on a blood test and the patient was admitted with a heavy antibiotic regimen of intravenous tazocin, gentamicin and vancomycin. On day 43, a new batch of hemp oil from an Afghan/Thai strain (referred to as Hemp Oil #3) prepared by the family was administered. A stronger psychosomatic response and increased fatigue were observed, so dosing was adjusted to 0.5 ml, shown in figure figure3. 3 . Due to hospital restrictions, dosing was limited to twice a day.
Blast cell counts, days 44–49: Hemp Oil #3.
A new batch of hemp oil was obtained by the family from an outside source and the dosing regimen continued twice a day, shown in figure figure4 4 .
Blast cell counts, days 50–67: Hemp Oil #4.
After returning home from the hospital on the 11th April (day 51), the patient suffered from intense nausea, an inability to eat and overall weakness. On the 13th April, the patient was readmitted to the SickKids Hospital and was treated for refeeding syndrome. This was the outcome of stopping total parenteral nutrition too quickly and causing shock to the patient’s body while she was being treated for the infection. The dosing regimen was intermittent until day 59, remaining at 1–2 doses per day of 0.5 ml. As the blast cells began to increase and the patient’s appetite increased, the dosing frequency was again increased to 3 times per day starting on day 62, and the amount administered was increased from day 65.
On day 68, a new batch of medicine was obtained by the family from an outside source (referred to as Hemp Oil #5), shown in figure figure5 5 .
Blast cell counts, days 69–78: Hemp Oil #5.
Dosing was maintained 3 times a day at 1.0 ml. On day 78, the patient had stomach pain in the morning and was admitted to hospital. Upon X-ray, it was noted that gastrointestinal bleeding had occurred. The patient was under a DNR order and ultimately passed away due to the bowel perforation. A prior history of pancolitis documented by CT scan in March 2009 pointed to neutropenic colitis with perforation as the cause of death. Furthermore, prior to starting on the hemp oil treatment, the patient had been extremely ill, severely underweight and had endured numerous sessions of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the course of 34 months.
As reported by Hematology/Oncology at SickKids: ‘At admission her total WBC was 1.4, hemoglobin was 82, platelet count 8,000. She was profoundly neutropenic… a prior history of pancolitis documented by CT scan in March 2009 was neutropenic colitis with perforation… her abdomen was distended and obviously had some signs of diffuse peritonitis. The abdomen X-ray was in favour a perforation…she passed away at 10:05 in the present (sic) of family…’.
Figure Figure6 6 is a summary of dose response to all the batches of hemp oil administered over a total of 78 days.
Response to hemp oil treatment over 78 days.
The results shown here cannot be attributed to the phenomenon of ‘spontaneous remission’ because a dose response curve was achieved. Three factors, namely frequency of dosing, amount given (therapeutic dosing) and the potency of the cannabis strains, were critical in determining response and disease control. In the figure, it can be seen that introducing strains that were less potent, dosing at intervals >8 h and suboptimal therapeutic dosing consistently showed increases in the leukemic blast cell count. It could not be determined which cannabinoid profiles constituted a ‘potent’ cannabis strain because the resin was not analyzed. Research is needed to determine the profile and ratios of cannabinoids within the strains that exhibit antileukemic properties.
These results cannot be explained by any other therapies, as the child was under palliative care and was solely on cannabinoid treatment when the response was documented by the SickKids Hospital. The toxicology reports ruled out chemotherapeutic agents, and only showed her to be positive for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) when she had ‘a recent massive decrease of WBC from 350,000 to 0.3’ inducing tumor lysis syndrome, as reported by the primary hematologist/oncologist at the SickKids Hospital.
This therapy has to be viewed as polytherapy, as many cannabinoids within the resinous extract have demonstrated targeted, antiproliferative, proapoptotic and antiangiogenic properties. This also needs to be explored further, as there is potential that cannabinoids might show selectivity when attacking cancer cells, thereby reducing the widespread cytotoxic effects of conventional chemotherapeutic agents. It must be noted that where our most advanced chemotherapeutic agents had failed to control the blast counts and had devastating side effects that ultimately resulted in the death of the patient, the cannabinoid therapy had no toxic side effects and only psychosomatic properties, with an increase in the patient’s vitality.
The nontoxic side effects associated with cannabis may be minimized by slowly titrating the dosing regimen upwards, building up the patient’s tolerance. The possibility of bypassing the psychoactive properties also exists, by administering nonpsychoactive cannabinoids such as cannabidiol that have demonstrated antiproliferative properties. Furthermore, future therapies could examine the possibility of upregulating a patient’s endogenous cannabinoids to help combat leukemic cells. It goes without saying that much more research and, even more importantly, phase clinical trials need to be implemented to determine the benefits of such therapies. Laboratory analysis is critical to figure out the constituents/profiles/ratios of the vast cannabis strains that show the most favored properties for exerting possible anticancer effects. Despite the nonstandardization of the medicines, the dose was readily titrated according to the biological response of the patient and produced a potentially life-saving response, namely, the drop in the leukemic blast cell count.
There has been an abundance of research exhibiting the cytotoxic effects of cannabinoids on leukemic cell lines in the form of in vitro and in vivo studies [1, 2, 3, 4]. An oncology and hematology journal, Blood, has published numerous papers  over the years constructing the biochemical pathway to be elicited by the anticancer properties of cannabinoids. Our goal, upon examination of this significant case study which demonstrated complete disease control and a dose response curve, is to invest effort in and to focus on research and development to advance this therapy. An emphasis needs to be placed on determining the correct cannabinoid ratios for different types of cancer, the best method of administration, quality control and standardization of the cannabis strains and their growing conditions as well as therapeutic dosing ranges for various cancers contingent on staging and ages. Toxicity profiles favor therapies deriving from cannabis because toxicity within the body is greatly reduced and the devastating side effects of chemoradiation (i.e. secondary cancers or death) can be eliminated. It is unfortunate that this therapy does come with some unwanted psychosomatic properties; however, these might be eliminated by target therapies of nonpsychoactive cannabinoids such as cannabidiol which has garnered much attention as being a potent anti-inflammatory and possible antileukemic and anticancer agent. It is acknowledged that significant research needs to be conducted to reproduce these results and that in vitro studies cannot always be reproduced in clinical trials and the human physiological microenvironment. However, the numerous research studies and this particular clinical case are powerful enough to warrant implementing clinical trials to determine dose ranges, cannabinoid profiles and ratios, the methods of administration that produce the most efficacious therapeutic responses and the reproducibility of the results. It is tempting to speculate that, with integration of this care in a setting of full medical and laboratory support, a better outcome may indeed be achieved in the future.
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