World Cancer Day 2023: discover the therapeutic potential of cannabidiol for cancer management and beyond

By DSM Pharma Solutions Editors
  • The scope of opportunities to improve treatment options through cannabidiol (CBD)-based drug discovery and development are expanding, especially in the field of cancer.
  • This World Cancer Day, 4th of February, we’re reflecting on the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD to support patients with cancer on their road to recovery. 
  • Read on to discover the latest science unlocking the possibilities of CBD-based therapy in cancer treatment, as well as the role of CBD in other important therapeutic areas, like anxiety-related disorders.  

What is all the fuss about CBD?

CBD is a bioactive cannabinoid compound derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD is top-of-mind in the pharmaceutical world due to its effects throughout the entire body and non-psychoactive properties. With 200 million people already using cannabis, and 40% doing so for medicinal reasons, it’s not surprising that harnessing the full therapeutic power of CBD has become a key initiative.1 Today, over 200 clinical trials are underway to explore the clinical relevance of CBD-based drugs in different settings, including cancer care.2 As World Cancer Day fast approaches, DSM is reflecting on the current evidence supporting the benefits of CBD in patients with cancer. Read on to discover the latest scientific findings.

CBD and cancer: new insights

Cancer is a highly prevalent and complex disease that, despite advancements in medical care, remains difficult to treat. To tackle the unmet need for better treatment options, researchers have been exploring the potential anti-cancer properties of CBD. New evidence reveals promising results in two difficult-to-treat malignancies – breast and lung cancer.  

  1. CBD for breast cancer

    Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women worldwide, and the most common cancer overall.3 Scientists reveal shocking predictions stating that by 2040 the breast cancer burden will increase to more than 3 million new cases per year (an increase of 40% from 2020) and more than 1 million deaths per year (an increase of 50% from 2020).4 A hormone therapy drug called tamoxifen is often used in patients with breast cancer to reduce the risk of it recurring. A new study has investigated the role of CBD in several breast cancer cell lines, with and without tamoxifen. Results show that CBD alone was able to induce cell death in all cell lines, and when used in combination with tamoxifen, synergistic effects were achieved – leading to enhanced anti-cancer function.5 These important results build on previous data demonstrating the anti-proliferative effects of CBD on cancer cells and supports use of the molecule as a combination therapy for breast cancer patients.

  2. CBD for lung cancer

    Lung cancers are extremely difficult to treat due to the presence of treatment-resistant lung cancer stem cells – stressing the urgent need for innovative treatment options. Several in-vitro studies found that CBD could induce cell death in lung cancer cell lines and patient-derived tumor cells.6 But what’s more interesting is new evidence indicating that CBD targets cancer stem cells too (a population of tumor cells that fuel tumor initiation and can cause relapses). By inducing death in cancer stem cells, CBD helps to decrease the self-renewal of these otherwise treatment-resistant cancer cells.7 These encouraging results further spotlight CBD’s substantial anti-cancer properties.

Managing cancer therapy with CBD

Despite improvements in medical care, patients with cancer can still experience distressing symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and pain. Some cannabinoid-based drugs have anti-sickness properties and could be used to treat the debilitating symptoms of cancer and its treatments.8 However, these early-stage findings are based on in vitro research, and although evidence looks promising, more scientific research is needed to confirm the benefits of CBD on cancer-related symptoms.

What’s next for CBD in cancer therapy?

It’s fair to say that clinical investigations exploring the potential of CBD-based therapies for cancer have been limited and poorly controlled to date.5 In an attempt to combat this, one team in the US has designed the first placebo controlled, randomized clinical trial to rigorously evaluate the ability of CBD to relieve symptoms in patients with advanced cancer.9 Results from this study will give valuable feedback on the potential benefits of CBD in palliative care.

CBD beyond cancer

Using CBD as a therapy for difficult-to-treat diseases is expanding beyond cancer too and into the realms of mental health disorders, such as anxiety. With global statistics indicating 5-10% of the population suffer from anxiety-related disorders, it is unsurprising that CBD is gaining interest in this space due to its potential anxiety-relieving effects.10,11 Findings from a new clinical trial indicated that treatment of moderate-to-severe anxiety with high dose CBD products resulted in symptom reduction with minimal side effects.[iii] This study provides preliminary evidence supporting efficacy and tolerability of high-potency CBD products for anxiety.

With this in mind, the future of CBD in the pharmaceutical landscape looks bright and the market for innovative new CBD-based drugs is full of opportunity. To read more about the untapped potential of cannabinoids, including CBD, download our whitepaper.


  1. World Drug Report 2021 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.21.XI.8)
  2. as of April 2021
  3. World Cancer Research Fund International - Breast cancer statistics. Available at:,ASR%20%3D%20age%2Dstandardised%20rates [last accessed January 2023]
  4. World Health Organisation - International Agency For Research On Cancer. Current and future burden of breast cancer: global statistics for 2020 and 2040. Available at: [Last accessed January 2023]
  5. Dobovisek et al., Effect of combining CBD with standard breast cancer therapeutics. Advances in Cancer Biology – Metastasis. 2022, 4: 100038
  6. Green et al., Role of Cannabidiol for Improvement of the Quality of Life in Cancer Patients: Potential and Challenges. Int J Mol Sci. 2022, 26;23(21):12956.
  7. Hamad H, Olsen BB. Cannabidiol Induces Cell Death in Human Lung Cancer Cells and Cancer Stem Cells. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2021, 14(11):1169.
  8. Kleckner et al,. Opportunities for cannabis in supportive care in cancer. Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2019,11.
  9. Good et al., Oral medicinal cannabinoids to relieve symptom burden in the palliative care of patients with advanced cancer: a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomised clinical trial of efficacy and safety of cannabidiol (CBD). BMC Palliat Care. 2019, 18(1):110.
  10. Alonso et al., Treatment gap for anxiety disorders is global: Results of the World Mental Health Surveys in 21 counties. Depress Anxiety. 2018, 35: 195-208.
  11. Narayan et al., Cannabinoid treatments for anxiety: A systematic review and consideration of the impact of sleep disturbance. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022, 143:104941.
  12. Dahlgren et al,. Clinical and cognitive improvement following full-spectrum, high-cannabidiol treatment for anxiety: open-label data from a two-stage, phase 2 clinical trial. Commun Med (Lond). 2022, 2(1):139.

Published on

30 January 2023

4 minutes

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up-to-date on the latest science, events and market trends

Download our Pharma Partner Brochure