Lung cancer, the most common cause of cancer death worldwide, can be a difficult cancer to treat. Billions of Euros are spent every year researching new cancer treatments that will potentially improve survival rates. Among the front runners are cannabinoids, special compounds found in the cannabis plant, which are known to have antitumoral properties. In this article, we’ll take a look at the latest research into CBD and lung cancer, to see whether this non-intoxicating cannabinoid could bring hope to the millions of lung cancer patients around the globe.

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in either one or both lungs. These cells eventually form tumours, obstructing normal lung function and causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughing, pain in the chest while coughing, and coughing up blood.

Lung cancer can be caused by smoking cigarettes, previous lung disease, and exposure to chemicals such as asbestos.

Lung cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide and according to the World Cancer Research Fund there were 2 million new cases in 2018. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy, depending on the stage of cancer.

Cannabinoids and Cancer

Since the 1970s researchers around the world have been investigating the antitumoral properties of the cannabis plant. Their research has mostly focussed on THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol), which are thought to be the most active cannabinoids in the plant.

Much early research centred around THC in particular, which was found to have clear antitumoral effects in cancers such as glioblastoma[1]. At the time, CBD was thought to show less therapeutic potential reflecting a general belief that its lack of intoxicating effect made CBD a less interesting cannabinoid to research.

CBD does not directly activate either CB1 or CB2 endocannabinoid receptors[2], known to be partially responsible for THC’s anticancer (and psychoactive) effects. However, scientists now know that CBD is in fact an incredibly complex molecule with multiple mechanisms of action, many of which may be antitumoral[3]. Guzman, M. et alt. A pilot clinical study of Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme. Br J Cancer. 2006 Jul 17;95(2):197-203. Epub 2006 Jun 27.

For instance, CBD is known to block the GPR55 receptor[4], the activation of which can increase cancer cell growth[5], and in preclinical studies has caused apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer[6], leukemia[7]  and neuroblastoma[8].

When paired with a cancer cell’s CB2 receptors, CBD stimulates what is known as the caspase cascade[9], a process involved in the killing of cancer cells.

CBD has also been found to limit the growth of tumours by preventing angiogenesis[10] – the production of new blood vessels.

CBD and Lung Cancer

It would be easy to think that just because a compound shows anticancer effects with one type of cancer, it must be the same for all the rest. Unfortunately, the term cancer should really be thought of as a collective term referring to a group of illnesses that share one main characteristic, the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells. The idea that there is one ‘miracle cure’ out there for cancer is misleading, so it’s important to look at all types of cancers individually.

When it comes to lung cancer, in a preclinical study[11] on lung cancer lines and primary cancer cells from a lung cancer patient, CBD brought about apoptosis by upregulating both COX-2, a pro-inflammatory enzyme and PPAR-γ (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor), a type type II nuclear receptor that is encoded by the PPARG gene.

Through different mechanisms, CBD has also been found to limit lung cancer cell invasion. One study[12] found that CBD caused a ‘profound inhibition’ of a type of lung cancer cell by decreasing the secretion of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) While another[13] observed how CBD reduced lung cancer metastasis by inducing intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1).

So far, these initial investigations only explain the mechanisms how CBD may bring about an antitumoral effect. They have not moved onto the next crucial research stage, testing whether CBD reduces tumours in animal models. This means that we are many years away from knowing for sure whether CBD is an effective treatment for lung cancer in humans.

CBD and Lung Cancer – A Real Life Case Study

However, that is not to say that some real life stories have caught the attention of both the media and scientific community alike.

When in regular CT scans, Mr Hill’s tumours began to shrink, his consultant asked what if anything he had been doing differently. The CBD oil was the only change in Mr Hill’s lifestyle, and inspired his consultant to author the paper “Striking lung cancer response to self-administration of cannabidiol: A case report and literature review[14].

Unfortunately, one success story for CBD and lung cancer is not sufficient evidence that the cannabinoid is an effective anticancer treatment. In order for CBD to become an approved lung cancer drug for humans, it must pass through five stages of clinical trials costing billions of Euros.

In the meantime, if you have lung cancer and are considering taking CBD oil, you should first have a conversation with your oncologist or seek out a doctor experienced in prescribing Bmedical cannabis for cancer.

Did you like the post? Give us some feedback! This post has been done based on existent research to the date of publication of the article. Due to the increase in studies based on medical cannabis, the information provided can vary over time and we’ll keep informing in further writings.

[1] Guzman, M. et alt. A pilot clinical study of Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme. Br J Cancer. 2006 Jul 17;95(2):197-203. Epub 2006 Jun 27.

[2] Pertwee RG. The diverse CB1 and CB2 receptor pharmacology of three plant cannabinoids: delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and delta9-tetrahydrocannabivarin. Br J Pharmacol. 2008;153(2):199–215. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707442

[3] Massi P, et alt. Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(2):303–312. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04298.x

[4] Christopher M. et alt. Minireview: Recent Developments in the Physiology and Pathology of the Lysophosphatidylinositol-Sensitive Receptor GPR55, Molecular Endocrinology, Volume 25, Issue 11, 1 November 2011, Pages 1835–1848,

[5] Andradas, C. et alt. Activation of the orphan receptor GPR55 by lysophosphatidylinositol promotes metastasis in triple-negative breast cancer. Oncotarget. 2016 Jul 26; 7(30): 47565–47575.

[6] Shrivastava, A. et alt. Cannabidiol induces programmed cell death in breast cancer cells by coordinating the cross-talk between apoptosis and autophagy. Mol Cancer Ther. 2011 Jul;10(7):1161-72

[7] Gallily, R. et alt. Gamma-irradiation enhances apoptosis induced by cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, in cultured HL-60 myeloblastic leukemia cells. Leuk Lymphoma. 2003 Oct;44(10):1767-73.

[8] Fisher, T. In vitro and in vivo efficacy of non-psychoactive cannabidiol in neuroblastoma. Curr Oncol. 2016 Mar;23(2):S15-22

[9] Massi, P. et alt. The non-psychoactive cannabidiol triggers caspase activation and oxidative stress in human glioma cells. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS September 2006, Volume 63, Issue 17, pp 2057–2066

[10] Solinas M, Massi P, Cantelmo AR, et al. Cannabidiol inhibits angiogenesis by multiple mechanisms. Br J Pharmacol. 2012;167(6):1218–1231. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.02050.x

[11] Ramer, R. et alt. COX-2 and PPAR-γ confer cannabidiol-induced apoptosis of human lung cancer cells. Mol Cancer Ther. 2013 Jan;12(1):69-82.

[12] Ramer, R. et alt. Decrease of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 may contribute to the anti-invasive action of cannabidiol on human lung cancer cells. Pharm Res. 2010 Oct;27(10):2162-74

[13] Ramer, R. et alt. Cannabidiol inhibits lung cancer cell invasion and metastasis via intercellular adhesion molecule-1. FASEB J. 2012 Apr;26(4):1535-48

[14] Sulé-Suso, J. et alt. Striking lung cancer response to self-administration of cannabidiol: A case report and literature review. SAGE Open Med Case Rep. 2019.