CBD Oil For Leukemia


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Leukemia Did you know that cannabis can alleviate some symptoms of cancer and the painful side effects of certain cancer treatments? Since cannabinoid treatments are growing in availability, 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. 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


Did you know that cannabis can alleviate some symptoms of cancer and the painful side effects of certain cancer treatments? Since cannabinoid treatments are growing in availability, cancer patients are increasingly beginning to look to medical marijuana to help fight their cancer.

Medical marijuana is becoming more popular as a treatment for leukemia due to its cancer cell fighting properties and therapeutic effects. You may find that knowing more about the benefits of medical marijuana and leukemia may help you better cope with the condition and its treatment.

How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Leukemia

New research has revealed that cannabinoids increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments in leukemia patients. UK researchers found that THC and CBD, the two major cannabinoids, were both effective when combined with chemo. However, the effect dramatically improved when used simultaneously. Pot’s overall medical effects also increase when you pair marijuana with coconut oil or other substances.

To relieve nausea associated with chemo and cancer-related pain, many patients often turn to cannabis and leukemia treatment. But weed has recently been growing in popularity as a treatment for leukemia and other types of cancer.

Evidence shows that medical cannabis is a viable treatment option for leukemia. Researchers found that the THC cannabinoids in medical marijuana can kill leukemia cells. Research also shows that, unlike chemo that targets cancer cells and healthy cells alike, medical pot only targets the cancer cells, not the healthy cells.

Researchers credit the widespread medical applications of marijuana to the endocannabinoid system (the natural cannabinoid system of your body.) What they found is that cannabinoid receptors are in many parts of your body, even your white blood cells. Because of this, researchers are continuing their promising investigation of marijuana for leukemia.

Leukemia & Medical Marijuana Research

A study from 2005 looked into the role of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in cannabinoid-induced leukemia cell death. Some types of MAPKs take part in apoptosis and autophagy, or cell death and turnover. Understanding how cannabis causes cancer cell death can help us learn how to make better treatments, so the researchers behind this study specifically examined the CB2 receptor.

Before observing the cell death process, the team reaffirmed that their leukemia cells had CB2 receptors. After confirming their presence, they administered THC and another CB2-related cannabinoid. A type of MAPK called p38 MAPK activated in response to CB2 receptor stimulation, showing a link. Blocking p38 MAPK lessened the CB2 receptor’s ability to kill leukemia cells.

Another study supported the possibility of using cannabis as a supplement to radiation therapy. When a team from Israel observed the effects of CBD and a synthetic counterpart on leukemia cells, they recorded the effects that occurred in cells with and without prior gamma radiation exposure.

While the compounds killed plenty of leukemia cells on their own, they worked even better when used after radiation therapy. Without radiation, CBD killed about 61% of cells, while the synthetic counterpart killed around 43% of leukemia cells. But, those numbers respectively rose to 93% and 95% for cells with previous radiation exposure.

What Symptoms of Leukemia Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Medical marijuana helps ease the following cancer symptoms in patients:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Lack of appetite

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Leukemia

Pain is a common and dreaded chemotherapy side effect. While marijuana might not be something you’re interested in, it can help relieve chronic pain. Many patients prefer it over opioid painkillers.

Painkilling strains of marijuana include:

  • Chemo (Indica)
  • Blackberry Kush (Indica)
  • Death Star (Indica)

Depression fighting strains include:

  • Harlequin (Sativa)
  • Trainwreck (Hybrid)
  • CBD Critical Cure (Indica)
  • White Widow (Hybrid)

Fatigue and Insomnia fighting strains include:

  • White Widow (Hybrid)
  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica)

Nausea and Vomiting strains include:

  • Lavender (Indica)
  • Chernobyl (Hybrid)

Stress fighting strains include:

  • Moby Dick (Sativa)
  • Blue Dream (Hybrid)

Lack of Appetite strains include:

  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica)

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Treat Leukemia Symptoms

With medical cannabis growing in popularity, there are many new methods of consuming marijuana. These newer methods allow you to benefit from the plant’s therapeutic potential for leukemia and other medical conditions.

When you think about medical weed, your first thought is probably an image of someone lighting up a joint. Although this is a popular way to consume this miracle drug, it’s not the healthiest. By inhaling cannabis, most of the cannabinoids are entering your body through your lungs and passed to your bloodstream. Because of this direct exchange, you’re shortening its effect.

Some better methods of consuming your medical weed include:

  • Vaporizing
  • Edibles
  • Juicing
  • Transdermal patches
  • Sublingual uptake
  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Topicals

Even though medical marijuana is presently federally illegal in the U.S., it’s legal in many states for valid medical use. To qualify for medical cannabis, you must first receive a diagnosis of a qualifying condition and obtain a local doctor’s recommendation for a medical marijuana card.

To find out if your state has legalized the use of medical cannabis, you can check our list. Then just search for a medical marijuana doctor to receive your cannabis for leukemia.

What Is Leukemia?

Leukemia is blood cell cancer. It begins in your bone marrow, which creates your blood cells. With leukemia, immature blood cells turn into cancer. Blood cells have different functions:

  • Red blood cells transport oxygen to all areas of your body.
  • White blood cells assist your body in fighting infection.
  • Platelets help with blood clotting.

With leukemia, abnormal white blood cells known as leukemia cells form from your bone marrow. These abnormal cells don’t do the work that your normal white blood cells do. They grow faster than normal cells, and they continue to grow when they shouldn’t.

As time passes, leukemia cells begin crowding out your healthy blood cells. Serious problems can arise from this such as bleeding, infections and anemia. Leukemia cells may also begin spreading to your lymph nodes or other organs, resulting in pain or swelling.

Leukemia may come on quickly or gradually. Slow growing leukemia is chronic. With acute leukemia, abnormal cells increase in number quickly.

Patients who have slow-growing leukemia may not have symptoms. Patients who have quick-growing types of leukemias may experience symptoms, including:

  • Frequent infections
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Physical weakness
  • Easy bruising
  • Bleeding easily
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Anemia
  • Bone pain
  • Petechiae
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen or enlarged gums
  • Feeling full or bloated
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Headaches
  • Unusual pallor
  • Swollen lymph nodes

These symptoms may start off mildly but can become more pronounced as leukemia advances.

Children often develop acute leukemia while adults may have either acute or chronic. Doctors can cure some types of leukemia. Other types of leukemia can’t be cured and can only be controlled.

Treatments might include radiation, chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation. These are the most common treatments although there are several others described below. You may require therapy even if your symptoms go away, to prevent a relapse.

Types of Leukemia

There are several types of leukemia, categorized by the type of white blood cells affected and the rate in which it worsens.

The four primary types of leukemia are:

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

AML causes your body to generate too many white blood cells, known in this case as myelocytes. Leukemia cells begin building up in your bone marrow and blood, leaving less room for your healthier blood cells. The symptoms of AML include easy bleeding, infections and anemia. AML affects men more than women. It also affects kids. As you age, the incidence of AML can increase.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

ALL also causes your body to generate too many white blood cells known as lymphocytes. These leukemia cells can’t fight infection effectively. The cells build up in your bone marrow and blood and don’t leave much room for your healthy blood cells. Easy bleeding, infections and anemia can result. ALL typically develops and worsens in a very short span of time.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

CML causes the same reaction as AML and ALL. It worsens slowly and is more common in men than it is in women. CML is most common in adults in their 50s, and rarely affects children.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

The same reaction happens with CLL as the other leukemia types. It’s most common in adults who are in their 60s, and more common in men than women. Children don’t often develop CLL. Patients with CLL tend to get more infections since it compromises the immune system.

There are other types of leukemia that aren’t as common, such as hairy cell leukemia. Leukemia also has subtypes, like the subtype of AML known as acute promyelocytic leukemia.

History of Leukemia

In 1845, John Hughes Benett officially identified leukemia as a diagnosis in Edinburgh. In the 19th century, other European physicians recognized abnormally high white blood cell levels in their patients, calling it “weisses blut” that meant “white blood.” Today, “leukemia” comes from the Greek terms “leukos” and “heima” that also means “white blood.”

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The formation of four types of leukemia occurred in 1913. They were:

  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Erythroleukemia
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia

In 1970, doctors confirmed that some patients could be cured of leukemia. By the 1980s, leukemia survival rates were approximately 70 percent.

Effects of Leukemia

The symptoms you experience with leukemia depend on what type of the disease you have. Common signs and symptoms of leukemia may include:

  • Weakness, persistent fatigue
  • Chills or fever
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Severe or frequent infections
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Enlarged spleen or liver, swollen lymph nodes
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Excessive sweating, particularly at night
  • Bone tenderness or pain
  • Petechiae (small red spots on the skin)

Besides the physical effects of leukemia, this disease can also affect your mental well-being. A cancer diagnosis can change your life. It may overwhelm you, and the side effects of treatment can make it difficult to handle everyday life stresses.

Your mood can change at any time once you receive your diagnosis. Some people struggle with anxiety or depression immediately following their diagnosis. Other people’s mood may change during treatment. Your body may have both mental and physical reactions to cancer treatment.

Although it’s harder to recognize mental changes, they can be just as hard to deal with as physical changes. However, it’s important to recognize and manage changes in mood. Some mood change symptoms may include:

  • Depression or feeling down
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty remembering and concentrating
  • Changing emotions like anger or crying
  • Problems with sexual performance or loss of sexual interest
  • Loss of motivation and energy
  • Excessive sleeping, insomnia or other changes in sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in socializing, activities and social events
  • Changes in appetite (loss of appetite or overeating)
  • Suicidal thoughts or feeling life isn’t worth living
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive or frequent fear, worry, or uneasiness
  • Increasing interest in alcohol
  • Panic attacks

Leukemia Statistics

  • Around every three minutes, in the U.S., one person receives a blood cancer diagnosis
  • In the U.S. in 2017, around 172,910 individuals are expected to get a diagnosis of leukemia
  • New leukemia cases in 2017 in the U.S. are projected to comprise around 10.2 percent of the 1,688,780 new cancer diagnosis case estimate
  • Leukemia accounts for nearly one out of three cancers and is the most common cancer in teens and children
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia makes up around three out of four leukemia cases among teens and children
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia is the most common cancer in early childhood and peaks between two and four-year olds

Current Treatments Available for Leukemia and Their Side Effects

To recommend a treatment protocol for leukemia, doctors perform several tests to diagnose the condition. These include conducting a complete blood count and performing a tissue biopsy from your bone marrow and possibly other organs such as your spleen and liver.

Treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy medications, may impact how you feel physically and emotionally. They may disrupt your sleep and cause nausea, depression, loss of appetite, fatigue and anxiety.

Your leukemia treatment plan depends on several factors. Your physician recommends the treatment best for your leukemia case based on your overall health, age, the type you have and if the cancer is spreading to other body parts.

Common treatments doctors typically prescribe for leukemia include:


Chemo is a major type of leukemia treatment. It consists of chemicals that kill leukemia cells. Your doctor may give you one dose or a mixture of drugs depending on your type of leukemia. It may come as an injection or a pill.

Side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Throat and mouth sores
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervous system effects
  • Blood disorders

Biological Therapy

Biological therapy helps your immune system identify leukemia cells and attack them.

Side effects of biological therapy include:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint or muscle aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Heightened or lowered blood pressure
  • Occasional breathing difficulties

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy attacks specific cancer cell vulnerabilities. For instance, Gleevec (imatinib) stops protein action in leukemia cells when you have chronic myelogenous leukemia helping to control leukemia.

Side effects of targeted therapy include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Skin problems such as dry skin, hair depigmentation, acneiform rash, nail changes
  • Gastrointestinal perforation
  • Problems with wound healing and blood clotting

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy consists of high-energy beams like X-rays that damage leukemia cells, stopping them from growing. Your doctor may apply radiation over your entire body or just a certain area of your body if there’s a concentrated group of leukemia cells. The doctor may give you radiation therapy before a stem cell transplant to prepare you for the procedure.

Side effects of radiation therapy include:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin problems such as itching, dryness, peeling
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea

Stem Cell Transplant

A stem cell transplant replaces unhealthy bone marrow with bone marrow that’s healthy. You’ll receive a high dose of radiation therapy or chemotherapy before your stem cell transplant procedure to destroy your unhealthy bone marrow. Your doctor will then give you an infusion that contains stem cells that form blood to help rebuild your bone marrow. Your doctor may use your stem cells or stem cells from a donor.

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.

Medical cannabis

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 (Cesamet)

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 (Nabiximols)

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:

  • smoked
  • vaporized
  • 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.

Side effects

Prescription drugs such as Nabilone can cause side effects. This can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • blood pressure problems
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • 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.

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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.

Other research

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.

More information

The science blog on our website has more information about cannabis and cancer.

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.

Cannabinoid Treatment

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 [1] 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.

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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 [2] 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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