A lung cancer patient who eschewed conventional treatments and self-medicated with cannabis oil saw her tumor shrink.
The unidentified woman, in her 80s, was taking cannabidiol (CBD) oil two to three times a day after she was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago.
But despite continuing to smoke and declining standard NHS treatment – including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – her tumor shrank to a quarter of its original size.
Doctors who treated the patient at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust said her case warrants a thorough investigation into whether cannabinoids – chemicals derived from cannabis – act as a cancer treatment.
But in the BMJ Case Reports, they wrote that it’s not clear that the CBD oil helped her cancer improve.
And experts said the case is not robust enough evidence that cannabis products can alter cancer progression.
The chart shows the diameter of the tumor in millimeters from June 2018 to February 2021, which shrank from 41mm to 10mm after self-medicating with CBD oil purchased abroad
The scans show the woman’s tumor in the center of her right lung (identified by the red arrow), which has shrunk by 76 percent in two and a half years. From top left: June 2018, September 2018, November 2018, February 2019, June 2019, October 2019, August 2020 and February 2021
Since August 2018, the patient has been taking 0.5ml of CBD oil – which she had bought outside the UK – two to three times a day on the advice of a family member. Pictured: Store-bought cannabidiol (CBD) oil
There are hundreds of cannabinoids, but tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical that gets you high – and CBD – which is non-psychoactive – are the two most researched.
Both chemicals work in tandem with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate nerve function, emotion, energy metabolism, pain and inflammation, sleep and immune function.
Chemically similar to these molecules, experts argue that cannabinoids can interact with signaling pathways in cells, including cancer cells.
dr. Bernard Yung and colleagues said it is “commonly believed” that cannabinoids may provide benefits to those suffering from pain, anxiety and sleep disorders.
But studies investigating whether they can be used alone as a cancer treatment have not shown a robust link.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK and only 15 per cent of people are still alive five years after being diagnosed.
The average survival without treatment is only seven months.
The woman, who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a week, went to her doctor in February 2018 after coughing for several months.
She was initially given antibiotics after a chest X-ray showed no problems.
But in June, she was diagnosed with cancer after her cough persisted and a follow-up scan showed a lesion on her right lung.
With no signs of it spreading, she qualified for standard surgery to remove the cancer, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
But she refused treatment after watching her husband struggle with the nasty side effects of radiotherapy.
What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical found in cannabis that has medical benefits.
It can be prescribed by the NHS for a small list of conditions, including severe epilepsy, vomiting caused by chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis.
The NHS version can’t get you high because it doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical in cannabis that has that effect.
But the health service warns that most cannabis-based products that can be purchased online are illegal and may contain THC.
And health food stores selling CBD products only contain very small amounts of the chemical, so it’s unclear what effect it has.
The risks of using cannabis products containing THC include psychosis and drug addiction.
The side effects include loss of appetite, diarrhea and nausea.
So she was put on a waiting list, requiring a CT scan every three to six months.
But instead of getting worse, her tumor gradually shrank by an average of 2.4 percent per month.
When she was diagnosed, her tumor was 41mm in diameter, but in February this year it was 10mm.
She revealed that since August 2018 she had been taking 0.5ml of CBD oil – which she had bought outside the UK – on the advice of a relative, two to three times a day.
It contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the compound in cannabis that gets users high – CBD and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the supplier said.
The packaging stated that the oil should not be taken with hot food or drink, as this could cause the user to become ‘stoned’.
The women said the only side effect of taking the oil was a loss of appetite.
She also took medications for mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, and high blood pressure.
Doctors warned that only one other similar case has been reported — and it’s not clear which ingredient in the CBD oil may have helped the tumor.
They wrote, “While there appears to be a correlation between CBD oil intake and observed tumor regression, we cannot conclusively confirm that the tumor regression is due to the patient taking CBD oil.”
The team confirmed to MailOnline that the patient continues to receive regular follow-up scans and that her tumor is stable.
Professor Edzard Ernst, Professor Emeritus of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, said: ‘Cannabinoids have been shown to reduce the size of prostate cancer tumors in animal models.
‘Previous case reports have provided encouraging findings, including in human cancers.
“However, case reports cannot be considered reliable evidence and there is currently no data from rigorous clinical trials indicating that cannabis products will alter the natural history of cancer.”
dr. Tom Freeman, senior lecturer and director of the Addiction and Mental Health Group at the University of Bath, said: ‘These results are exciting and very encouraging for this patient.
‘However, as a single case study, the quality of the scientific evidence is low and should not be used to change clinical practice.
‘People with lung cancer should always seek advice from a health care professional when choosing an appropriate treatment.
‘The product used by this patient was said to be high in THC (the intoxicating component of cannabis) and sourced from outside the UK.
“This type of product is very different from most CBD oils that contain predominantly CBD.
“Unlike prescription drugs, CBD wellness products lack assurance about quality, safety or efficacy and should not be used for medicinal purposes.”