Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body.
The types of cancers that develop in children are often different from the types that develop in adults. Childhood cancers are often the result of DNA changes in cells that take place very early in life, sometimes even before birth. Unlike many cancers in adults, childhood cancers are not strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors.
But while proven cancer treatments have generally required either surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments, a growing number of parents are turning to alternatives for the treatment of pediatric cancers in their children – with surprisingly positive results.
In fact, while practically no doctor in the country would recommend choosing medical cannabis over treatment options that statistically give patients the best chances of survival, some pediatric cancer patients are reporting to be completely cancer free after switching to cannabinoid treatments. CBD in particular has had numerous success stories that have been plastered all over the mainstream media for being a miraculous “cure” for children with pediatric cancers.
So is cannabis – and especially CBD – really curing these children of cancer?
Here’s the lowdown on this amazing cannabinoid and its possible anti-cancer effects for children.
CBD and Neuroblastoma
For millennia, the cannabis sativa plant has been used in folk medicine to alleviate pain, depression, amenorrhea, inflammation, epilepsy, and numerous other medical conditions. In cancer patients specifically, cannabinoids are well known to exert powerful palliative effects. Cannabis has been shown to reduce the effects of wasting (where chemotherapy causes the body to become progressively weaker and emaciated), inhibit nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, alleviate pain, and stimulate the appetite.
Recently, research has revealed that the cannabinoids Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – two major components of the cannabis plant – have demonstrated antitumor activity as well.
With CBD in particular, several lines of evidence support its antitumorigenic effects on many adult cancer types including breast cancer, glioma, leukemia/lymphoma, lung cancer, endocrine tumors, colon cancer, and angiogenesis in a wide variety of experimental models, including cancer cell lines in culture, xenograft mouse models, and genetically engineered mice.
However, researchers are beginning to investigate the effects of cannabinoids on pediatric cancers as well.
In one recent 2016 study published in the journal Current Oncology, a team of Israeli researchers investigated the effects of THC and CBD on neuroblastoma, in vitro (cell cultures) and in vivo (mice injected with cancer cells). Neuroblastoma (NBL) develops from the cells (called neuroblasts) left behind from a baby’s development in the womb. NBL can occur anywhere in the body and is one of the most common solid cancers in children.
But while both cannabinoids showed antitumor effects, CBD was more active in inhibiting tumor growth activity in vitro and impeded the growth of tumor xenografts in vivo. In fact, CBD reduced the viability and invasiveness of treated tumor cells in vitro and induced apoptosis (or programmed cell death of tumor cells). CBD also caused an increase in caspase 3 in vitro and in vivo as well. Caspase 3 is a caspase protein that plays a central role in the execution-phase of programmed cell death.
The authors concluded:
“Our findings about the activity of CBD in NBL support and extend previous findings about the antitumor activities of CBD in other tumors and suggest that cannabis extracts enriched in CBD and not in THC could be suitable for the development of novel non-psychotropic therapeutic strategies in NBL. Use of CBD either as single agent or in combination with existing compounds and chemotherapy agents is a possibility. Combination therapy might improve the antitumorigenic effects of other treatments and allow for a reduction in the chemotherapy dose, minimizing toxicity and long-term sequelae. Future studies are needed to highlight the pathways involved in the antitumorigenic effects of CBD in NBL as demonstrated in the present work.”
CBD and other Pediatric Cancers
Childhood leukemia is another type of cancer that may be treatable with CBD.
Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, leukemia is a cancer that starts in early blood-forming cells found in the bone marrow, the soft inner part of certain bones. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, but some leukemias start in other blood cell types.
Any of the blood-forming cells from the bone marrow can turn into a leukemia cell. Once this change takes place, the leukemia cells no longer mature in a normal way. Leukemia cells might reproduce quickly, and not die when they should. These cells build up in the bone marrow, crowding out normal cells. In most cases, the leukemia cells spill into the bloodstream fairly quickly. From there they can go to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), testicles, or other organs, where they can keep other cells in the body from doing their jobs.
But studies have shown that CBD may be an effective treatment for leukemia. One recent 2017 study published in Frontier in Pharmacology found that CBD was able to shrink leukemia cells – an effect which persisted even after treatment.
In another study published in 2006 in Molecular Pharmacology, CBD was able to induce apoptosis in human leukemia cells. The authors concluded that CBD may be a novel and highly selective treatment for leukemia.
Another sign that points to CBD as a potential treatment, albeit anecdotal, is the story of Landon Riddle – a story which has gained immense coverage in mainstream media news outlets.
Landon was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia as a toddler and became the youngest patient in the United States to receive a medical marijuana card after Landon’s mom was left with no choice but to defy his doctors’ orders and begin him on CBD oil obtained from the famous Stanley Brothers in Colorado – the producers of Charlotte’s Web.
Today, Landon is completely cancer-free. Recent results from blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy and spinal tap prove Landon no longer has leukemia. Landon was even profiled in a story on CNN by none other than the network’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of medical cannabis’ most important advocates.
Another childhood cancer that may be treatable with CBD is retinoblastoma. It is a rare form of cancer that rapidly develops from the immature cells of a retina, the light-detecting tissue of the eye. But although rare, it is also the most common type of eye cancer in children.
According to the American Cancer Society, during the early stages of development as babies grow in the womb, the eyes have cells called retinoblasts that divide into new cells and fill the retina. At a certain point, these cells stop dividing and develop into mature retinal cells.
However sometimes this process doesn’t occur normally. When something goes wrong, some retinoblasts will continue to divide and grow out of control, forming the cancer known as retinoblastoma.
To date, there are no scientific studies that have investigated CBD’s effects on retinoblastoma.
However, the incredible story of Waldo Dwyer has even the skeptics scratching their heads.
When Waldo was just six months old, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma and was facing an uncertain future. At the time, his doctors said he had a 50% chance of losing his eye. Going through chemotherapy had caused him to become violently sick. He began losing weight, losing his appetite, and losing his hair. He was also crying all the time and had no energy at all.
At that point his parents decided to give him high-CBD cannabis oil and the change was dramatic. According to his father Brian James Dwyer, “Within an hour he had stopped crying. Within four hours, he was crawling, even laughing… He didn’t puke once after we started giving it to him.”
In fact, Waldo was also able to stop the prescription medication altogether.
Today Waldo is completely tumor free, thanks in part, his parents say, to the high-CBD cannabis oil. Not surprisingly, his father Brian is now a cannabis advocate and travels to fight for cannabis decriminalization in various states.
These are just some of the possible ways in which CBD may be able to help treat pediatric cancers. Although more studies are required, preliminary results and anecdotal accounts show that CBD is a promising substance that has potential to be developed into a treatment option for children living with cancer.
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