Fighting Canine Cancer with Chemotherapy and CBD
Cancer cells are much different than normal cells found within the body because, unlike normal cells, cancer cells never die on their own. Normal cells in the body undergo a process known as apoptosis, or cell suicide, resulting in ‘damaged’ cells, or cells who are no longer needed, being eliminated and excreted from the body.
Cancer cells have the ability to grow, thrive, and mutate to form tumors. Then, proceed to carry themselves throughout the body. Since these cells don’t die on their own, there isn’t much of a ‘stopping force’ to prevent cancer from spreading and not only surviving but thriving, in our bodies.
Cannabis and chemotherapy are among the tools used to combat cancer in both humans and dogs. If you have ever learned about cancer, even only human cancer, you’ll likely recall marijuana being provided to cancer patients to reduce nausea, calm anxiety, and help with treatment overall.
Cannabis has been integrated into medicine for thousands of years. Cannabinol, (AKA CBD), and THC have been found to have intense health benefits. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive portion of the cannabis plant, has also been found to be extremely helpful in regard to cancer.
Chemotherapy is often incorporated into any cancer treatment regimen and, luckily, is often well-tolerated by our dogs in an effort to kill cancer cells. Chemo in combination with CBD can prove helpful with reducing side effects as well as assisting in targeting cancer cells.
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Chemotherapy for Our Dogs
When a dog is treated using western medicine, it often involves the use of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. In many cases, it’s a combination of all three. The type of treatment, as well as the stage of cancer, are factors taken into consideration when a dog is being treated.
Chemotherapy to treat our dog’s cancer can be overwhelming especially when we see what our friends and family have endured in their chemo treatments. You imagine your dog losing her fur and becoming extremely fragile. Fortunately, the effects of chemo aren’t the same in dogs as they are for humans in most cases.
There are side effects with chemotherapy for our dogs, but they aren’t exactly as many of us picture. The side effects of chemotherapy generally appear 3-4 days following chemo treatment in our dogs and may last for up to 48 hours.
Some dogs walk away from their chemo treatment with minor side effects like fatigue and just feeling a bit groggy. Other dogs are more sensitive to chemo and may experience other side effects including:
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Minor hair loss
- Lowered white blood cell count
- Skin irritation (rare)
- Neuropathic pain (pain in the nerves)
Every dog is different, just as every person is different, and will react differently to the chemo treatments.
Depending on how intense the chemo treatment is, nausea may be apparent as well. Nausea and vomiting are common side effects to chemotherapy treatment. Nausea occurs when a sensory center in the brain, associated with the digestive tract, becomes stimulated. According to The Canadian Veterinary Journal, “if the signs are mild, patients can be managed at home. Nothing per os (NPO) for a day followed by a bland diet is usually sufficient. Animals that are more severely affected may require hospitalization with IV fluids and anti-emetics.”
MDR1 Mutation and Chemo
There are some dog breeds more prone to sensitivity with chemotherapy due to a genetic mutation known as MDR1. Dogs with the genetic mutation often show symptoms of chemo more than others. Some veterinary oncologists may refer to genetic testing to see if the dog has the mutation or a lower dosage may be provided to begin if it’s suspected.
CBD and Cancer
Research has shown CBD can cause cell death in cancer cells; and, stop tumor growth. This prevents metastasis or the spread of cancer. For dogs who are experiencing inadequate appetite, CBD can also help by increasing a dog’s appetite keeping the immune system in better shape.
Another common occurrence in cancer cells is angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the ability of cancer to create its own network of blood vessels within the body. CBD (and THC) can prevent the development of blood vessels found in tumors therefore blocking their source of nutrition. Essentially, starving the cancer cells to death.
There aren’t currently any long-term clinical studies in regard to CBD oil for dogs. But, there’s a sufficient amount of research to make it a good candidate for further research in this field.
CBD and Chemotherapy
When reviewing the available research, CBD has been found to manage the symptoms explained above. Stimulation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) can help to manage inflammation and pain caused by cancer treatments.
Also, according to research published in the International Journal of Oncology, “The sequence of administration of these drugs was important though; using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in greater induction of apoptosis [cell suicide], whilst this was the opposite when the schedule of administration was reversed. Our results suggest that when certain cannabinoids are paired together, the resulting product can be combined synergistically with common anti-leukemia drugs allowing the dose of the cytotoxic agents to be dramatically reduced yet still remain efficacious.”
Another study, published by Current Oncology, found “in addition to the well-known palliative effects of cannabinoids on some cancer-associated symptoms, a large body of evidence shows that these molecules can decrease tumor growth in animal models of cancer.” This study found tumor cell proliferation decreased due to cannabinoids’ ability to communicate properly with the body. This study went on to state “given that cannabinoids show an acceptable safety profile, clinical trials testing them as single drugs or, ideally, in combination therapies in glioblastoma and other types of cancer are both warranted and urgently needed.”
Dogs who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for their cancer may or may not experience side effects. Even dogs who do not experience side effects can benefit from the therapeutic mechanisms of cannabis. Targeting cancer in our dogs should be a joint effort from multiple angles. Combining chemotherapy with cannabis can assist with reducing the spread of cancer and potentially assist in complete eradication of cancer. Whether it’s a small step in the right direction or a large step in the right direction, CBD has proven worthy for the fight. Any step in the right direction is necessary when handling conditions such as these.
Cannabis Can Help Some Pediatric Cancer Patients
There is a tremendous amount of interest in the use of cannabis to treat cancer. Over the past two decades, hundreds of studies have investigated the antitumor properties of cannabinoids with promising results. Unfortunately, we are lacking critical human research that answers the questions of which specific cancers respond to cannabis, which cannabinoids to use, what dose to use and what duration of treatment is needed to achieve survivorship.
As a pediatrician who also specializes in medical cannabis treatment, I am often asked to see children who are suffering from advanced cancers. Parents seek cannabis medicine to help their children with relief of symptoms from the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In some cases, having been told the cancer treatment is not working, parents are desperate to find a cure. I teach parents what we know and what we don’t know about cannabis use in cancer patients and in children, knowing that they must have the data to make an informed decision.
Cannabinoids have been shown in animal studies to inhibit tumor growth, cause cancer cells to commit suicide, inhibit metastasis and inhibit angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels). There is only one study in humans that used THC in nine patients with unresponsive glioblastoma multiforme. Human trials are prohibited in the US due to the Schedule I designation of cannabis.
Multiple animal studies tell us that cannabinoids have antiproliferative effects in various tumor cell lines including breast, prostate, skin, neural, bone, and thyroid. Lymphoma and leukemia cells have also responded to cannabinoids in the lab. Additionally, cannabinoids have also been shown to enhance the effects of certain chemotherapeutic agents . This growing evidence has triggered the use of cannabis to treat cancer in states with medical cannabis laws.
Although most reports of cancer “cures” are anecdotal, a case report from Canada of a 14-year-old girl with an extremely aggressive form of leukemia successfully documented a dose response to cannabis oil. Chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplant were unsuccessful and physicians determined there was no further treatment available. The patient’s parents began treating her with untested concentrated cannabis oil. The patient started treatment with a blast cell count (leukemia cells) of 194,000 (there should be none). By Day 5 of the oil, her blast cell count grew to a dangerously high 374,000, however with continued administration of the oil, by Day 15 her blast cell count was down to 61,000. Additionally, the patient required fewer painkillers and had increased alertness. The lowest blast cell count noted was 300 on Day 39. Ultimately, the child died of a bowel perforation that resulted from her severely debilitated health after 34 months of chemotherapy and radiation.
During oil treatment, it was learned that blast cells increased if the oil was not taken three times/day or if a new batch was started, suggesting that longer dosing intervals and lower potency oil were less effective. This patient was not on other treatment while using cannabis and the blast cell count responded to adjustments in dosing frequency and dose potency.
I am currently taking care of a teenager who was diagnosed two years ago with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, with lung metastasis. He was treated quite aggressively with chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. When his parents brought him to see me, he had lost a large amount of weight, was in terrible pain and was on palliative chemotherapy of gemcitabine. The oncologist reported to me that there was no further treatment available. The patient was started on a regimen of high dose THC and CBD oil sublingually, starting low doses and ultimately increasing to 1,000 milligrams cannabinoids/day divided into three doses with a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio with instructions to continue chemo.
He immediately gained weight and stopped using opiates for pain. After three months of cannabis treatment, repeat bone and PET scans revealed no evidence of disease. The patient continued on cannabis treatment but due to the development of anxiety, the CBD:THC ratio was adjusted to 3:1.
After another three months of oil treatment, repeat radiological evaluation revealed no evidence of disease. It is now over 18 months since starting cannabis treatment and one year off chemotherapy. The cancer has not returned despite its aggressive metastatic nature. The patient is still on cannabis and is living his life normally.
What is notable in this case is that research in mice with grafted pancreatic cancer cells showed that the gemcitabine’s ability to kill cancer cells was enhanced by the addition of cannabinoids. I believe that the synergy between the chemo and cannabinoids is the reason why this teenager is in remission and that continued use of cannabis has kept the cancer from returning.
Another patient, a toddler with leukemia, came to see me as he was suffering just about every side effect from chemo. He was losing weight rapidly, and was unable to eat due to severe mucositis, the mouth sores that result from chemo. He was terribly cranky, didn’t want to play and wasn’t sleeping. He started taking just a few drops of low-dose CBD and THC oil, and has been able to eat, sleep, play and gain weight. To quote his mother, “Chemo without cannabis and chemo with cannabis has been day and night for us. He is having a much easier time with the ongoing chemo treatment since cannabis oil was added.”
Cannabis treatment for children with cancer remains controversial, however, in cases of treatment-resistant cancers and severe side effects from treatment, cannabis must be a readily available option, especially since it is significantly less toxic than most cancer treatments. In addition to the antitumor effects, cannabis can enhance the effects of some chemotherapy while making the adverse effects tolerable. In my experience, I have seen patient survival extended. We must be careful with claims of “cancer cure” but if cannabis can be rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule II, researchers can finally find the desperately needed answers and save many lives.
Originally published in Mary’s Cannabis Primer, a booklet published by Alice O’Leary Randall.
Afraid Daughter, 3, Wouldn’t Survive Chemo, Her Parents Turn to Medical Marijuana
It was July 2014 and Jaclyn von Harz and her husband, Jim, knew their 3-year-old daughter Cecilia —whose right lung was filled with cancerous tumors — didn’t have much time or fight left in her tiny body.
“She was just so emaciated,” Jim tells PEOPLE in a story in this week’s magazine. “She’d lost all her hair, lost all her weight. There just wasn’t much of her left.”
Cecilia, it turns out, survived her battle with cancer, but that was only after her parents took the biggest risk of their lives — opting to discontinue her chemotherapy and turning to a drug that has been off-limits to doctors and researchers for the past 80 years: marijuana.
“When your child is sick,” explains Jaclyn, 35, “you get this instinctual feeling. I didn’t know that this would work, but I knew the other alternative would lead to death.”
The von Harz’s agonizing medical journey — along with that taken by several other families desperate to keep their children alive while battling cancer — is told in Weed The People, a new documentary by former talk show host Ricki Lake, focusing on medical marijuana and its use in pediatric cancer.
“This isn’t fringe science anymore,” says Los Angeles pediatrician Dr. Bonni Goldstein, an expert in cannibinoid therapy who worked with the von Harz family. “Studies have shown that cannabis can help kill cancer, in conjunction with chemotherapy, and also help fight the side effects of chemo.”
Adds Lake — who spent six years working on the documentary with director Abby Epstein: “Cannabis (marijuana’s scientific name) needs to be accepted and understood as a medicine. This is a human rights issue and everyone should have access to this plant if they need it.”
But as many in the medical community have grown open to marijuana’s use as a cancer therapy, it remains illegal, even for medical use, in 19 states. The federal government has designated marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning one with high potential for abuse. And the American Medical Association, while acknowledging anecdotal evidence of the drug’s efficacy with cancer patients, insists there is still a need for “scientifically valid and well-controlled clinical trials … to assess the safety and effectiveness” of cannabis in medical uses.
Cecilia’s parents first began giving their daughter tiny doses of the oils extracted from the marijuana plant to ease the debilitating effects of chemotherapy following her initial surgery — to remove a two-pound tumor from her right kidney — in April 2013. The oils contained the compounds THC, which gives the plant its “high,” and the non-intoxicating, powerful anti-inflammatory CDB.