CBD and the side effects of chemotherapy


What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is an anti-cancer drug that kills cancer cells by disrupting their growth and division. Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly growing cells, and cancer cells grow much more quickly than most cells in the body, so are more likely targets. Unfortunately, some healthy cells are affected, but they can usually recover from damage, whereas cancer cells cannot recover and eventually die. Chemotherapy prevents cancer cells from reproducing by killing cells in the process of cell division, where one cell splits to produce two cells. This prevents cancer cells from growing and spreading in the body.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells, so it can damage healthy cells that are constantly growing and dividing, such as cells in bone marrow, hair, nails, skin, and the gut. Fortunately, normal cells can replace or repair healthy cells damaged by chemotherapy. Some side-effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased blood clot risk
  • Peripheral neuropathy (numb or tingling hands or feet) and neuropathic pain
  • Cancer-related cognitive changes e.g problems with memory, concentration etc.
  • Emotional and mental issues

What does the research say about CBD?

In terms of CBD and cancer, there are two main areas of research. Some scientists are studying whether CBD can relieve some of the side effects of cancer and chemotherapy, and some scientists are investigating whether CBD can slow or prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Whilst there have not been any large-scale human studies showing that CBD slows the growth of cancer cells, some studies show that CBD can ease the side effects of chemotherapy. The main focus of CBD for cancer treatment is its ability to reduce nausea and vomiting that often accompanies chemotherapy and radiation treatment. 

How can CBD help?

CBD has anti-sickness, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anxiety-reducing properties, all of which could help tackle the adverse effects of chemotherapy. It can treat side effects such as nausea, vomiting, pain, inflammation, insomnia, fatigue, appetite loss, neuropathic pain, and mental issues. CBD can stimulate appetite in patients suffering from nausea and appetite loss, allowing patients to maintain a healthy weight. 

Dr. Rahul Khare, MD, CEO and founder of Innovative Care, a group of medical practices in Chicago, says “CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help reduce pain and anxiety. Cannabis products can also help reduce nausea and vomiting and support digestive health. I’ve also recommended cannabis to patients who are struggling to maintain proper nutrition or experiencing a significant amount of weight loss during cancer treatment. Certain cannabis strains will spark an appetite and help in those circumstances.”

CBD and chemotherapy-related pain

Both cancer and chemotherapy can cause pain, often due to inflammation, pressure on internal organs or nerve damage. Very severe pain can be treated with opioids, which is dangerous as opioids are associated with impaired cognition, impaired gastrointestinal function, mood changes, and the risk of addiction and overdose. Neuropathic pain is a primary side effect of chemotherapy as treatment causes nerve cell dysfunction or death in up to 75% of patients. Standard therapies include anti-epileptics or antidepressants, but these cause further side effects and have limited efficacy. This is where CBD comes in, as it is known to reduce pain and inflammation by binding to CB2 receptors. 

A 2014 study demonstrated that patients receiving CBD did not require as much pain medication, had lower pain scores, and reported better quality and quantity of sleep. Furthermore, studies have shown that CBD can reduce anxiety and depression, another common side effect of cancer and chemotherapy.

FDA-approved cannabis drugs

In the US, there are two FDA-approved cannabis medications, dronabinol and nabilone. They have been licensed to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy when other medications have been unsuccessful. Both dronabinol and nabilone contain synthetic THC. Dronabinol is not licensed for use in the UK, but nabilone can be prescribed to chemotherapy patients when other treatments have not helped or are unsuitable. Analysis of 23 clinical trials showed that cannabinoids are highly effective at relieving nausea and vomiting and provide similar effects to conventional treatments. However, results can vary significantly from patient to patient. 

There is also nabiximols, which is licensed in Canada and some parts of Europe. Nabiximols contains both THC and CBD and has been shown to help those with cancer pain that cannot be relieved by strong pain medications. It is important to note that this research is new and ongoing, so any adverse reactions between cannabis and chemotherapy have not been identified.


In summary, chemotherapy causes numerous side effects, some of which can be treated by CBD. CBD’s ability to relieve pain, inflammation, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, appetite loss, neuropathic pain, and mental issues is very promising. However, more research is needed to determine whether CBD is safe to use alongside chemotherapy. Licensed cannabis-based medications for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting contain THC, so more studies need to be done on only CBD and cancer-related side effects. If you are receiving a form of cancer treatment, we recommend consulting your healthcare team before using CBD.

DISCLAIMER: This content was developed for purely informational purposes and does not constitute healthcare advice. All the information is generalised and is from referenced third parties. HempWell does not offer medical advice. HempWell’s CBD products are sold as food supplements. If you have any concerns about taking CBD, please contact your healthcare provider, especially if you are on medication.