Dr. Nisha Cooch PhD, PMP
CBD has rapidly grown in popularity, and we are often bombarded with messages about how CBD products may benefit us. While there is a lot of research supporting the idea that full spectrum CBD carries health and wellness advantages, some companies that develop or sell CBD products take their claims too far.
The potential effects of CBD on cancer is one area that has incited debate.
People suffering from cancer have reported that CBD helps them, and scientific research studies have begun looking into if and how CBD may improve health or quality of life in those with cancer.
The relevant data – and the reporting on such data – are often met with both hope and skepticism and can cause confusion, especially among the non-medical community.
This reaction cascade is exactly what has happened recently in the area of breast cancer, following a study on the influence of CBD on breast cancer tumor growth.
Why Science Is Interested In CBD’s Impact on Breast Cancer
Science and medicine related to breast cancer have progressed tremendously in recent decades, and we are able to identify it and treat it earlier than ever before as a result.
Nonetheless, due to efficacy issues and potentially hazardous side effects, there are still limited treatment options for aggressive metastatic forms of breast cancer that have spread to areas outside the breasts.
For this reason, metastatic breast cancer is still often incurable.
Because we do not in all cases catch and stop breast cancer before it spreads, it is important that the scientific and medical communities continue to explore how we can best address metastasis and help the relevant population of patients.
A recent study on the effects of CBD on breast cancer focused on how CBD may specifically affect the expression of a protein shown to be involved in the progression of breast cancer tumors.
Previous research showed that when levels of this protein– called Id-1 – are reduced in mouse models of breast cancer, the cell proliferation that promotes tumor growth, as well as tumor invasiveness, have decreased.
Unfortunately, the technology that has been used in animal research to reduce Id-1 expression cannot be safely deployed in humans. However, scientists have hypothesized that CBD may offer a nontoxic way to reduce the protein in patients, partly owing to the observation that CBD has been found to inhibit the metastasis of breast cancer cells in mice.
Because the specific way in which CBD may halt tumor progression has not been established, scientists have surmised that perhaps CBD is able to lower Id-1 protein levels. Based on this idea, researchers decided to test whether CBD could impact not only breast cancer tumor activity, but also Id-1 levels.
What Exactly Did The CBD and Breast Cancer Study Show?
After testing a variety of cannabis compounds, the researchers found CBD was the compound that suppressed the aggressiveness of cancer cells the most and that it also lowered levels of Id-1.
According to the data, CBD lowered levels of Id-1 by modifying the cells’ genetic code such that less of the protein was made.
While it is useful to know that CBD can both change the activity of cancer cells and also change the levels of Id-1, what scientists are particularly interested in is whether the impact that CBD can have on breast cancer cells occurs because of its ability to suppress Id-1.
This link is important to establish because understanding the mechanism by which CBD can affect cancer cells can enable better, more specific treatments that have less adverse side effects.
To determine if CBD’s influence on Id-1 levels could explain the compound’s effect on the cancer cells, the researchers added Id-1 back onto the cells. When they did so, the improvements that CBD previously had on the aggressiveness of the cells was abolished.
The scientists therefore concluded that CBD may be able to reduce the invasiveness of metastatic breast cancer cells specifically by inhibiting Id-1.
What The CBD Study Did Not Show
While the results of this scientific study are interesting and impressive, it is important to keep in mind that the study was conducted with mice, not humans.
Though human breast cancer cell lines were used for the research, there is still a long way to go before we can know if CBD could actually affect tumor activity in people with metastatic breast cancer.
Additionally, even if the potential of CBD on metastatic breast cancer is confirmed, more research will be needed to determine how CBD could best be used to achieve its anti-metastatic effects.
Questions include whether there are certain sub-populations for whom CBD is likely to work or not work, and what dosing and route of administration are optimal.
Why Do Breast Cancer Patients Report Benefits of CBD?
Adding a bit to the confusion about what benefits CBD may confer to patients with metastatic breast cancer are self-reports of the positive impact of CBD.
Importantly, these reports tend not to address the effect of CBD on tumors, but instead on other factors affecting these patients’ lives.
For instance, the Grease actress, Olivia Newton-John, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, has reported that CBD helps with her anxiety and sleep. According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, CBD has also been reported to help with the depression, nausea, anorexia, and neuropathy that may accompany cancer or occur as side effects of cancer treatments.
Can CBD help breast cancer patients? The short answer is that it is simply too early to say. It is important to recognize that there are two separate critical questions to consider.
1) Whether CBD can help to treat cancer.
2) Whether CBD may help cancer patients cope with their symptoms and the side effects of other cancer treatments.
While science is addressing both of these questions, it will likely still be a while before we can say with certainty if and how CBD can help breast cancer patients or patients with other forms of cancer.
The Science of CBD
At Laura’s Mercantile, we’re keen to share the science about CBD’s suggested therapeutic benefits. We’re aware many companies take this a step too far by making lofty medical claims, sometimes to the point of deception. It’s our intention to only share peer-reviewed research and communicate scientific findings in an objective manner.