By Luke Sumpter

Cannabis has been used as a medicinal herb throughout thousands of years of human history. Its illegal status is an extremely recent phenomenon and luckily for thousands of medical patients and recreational users, prohibition appears to be coming to an abrupt end. Scientific analysis is proving that compounds within the plant, such as cannabinoids and terpenes, have powerful ameliorative effects against an entire host of diseases and medical conditions. Although hard to believe, cannabis is also documented as having a positive effect against numerous types of cancer, including leukaemia.


Cancer is known as a devastating disease and almost anyone you talk to has had their lives affected by it in some way or another. It was estimated in 2016 that in the United States alone, 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed and that 595,690 people were suspected to die from the disease. These numbers are staggering, with the most common cancers that same year being breast, lung, bladder, and leukaemia. Conventional treatments offered to individuals include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. These methods often pose extremely detrimental side effects and clearly have limits when looking at the data.

Emerging alternative therapies and approaches are on the rise, with cannabis gaining a lot of traction in this area. The American government website even states that cannabinoids have displayed antitumor effects by inducing cell death and inhibiting cell growth.


Leukaemia, sometimes referred to as blood cancer, is a cancer that affects blood cells. So far, it is stated that the exact cause of the condition is unknown, however, exposure to radiation, certain forms of chemotherapy, smoking, chemicals, and family history have all been named as potential risk factors. It is estimated that a massive 62,130 new cases of leukaemia will be diagnosed within the United States in 2017. 24,500 people are expected to die from the disease within the same year.

Leukaemia marijuana

Leukaemia features the malignancy of blood cells. This usually involves the production of abnormal white blood cells. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, make up around 1 percent of total blood, yet play a vital role in the maintenance of health and defence against disease, illness, and infection. White blood cells flow throughout the bloodstream on patrol against unwelcome intruders in the forms of viruses, bacteria, and other malevolent invaders. White blood cells are formed within bone marrow and go on to be stored in the blood as well as lymphatic tissues. Blood cancers such as leukaemia can trigger uncontrolled growth of white blood cells, which can result in infection and dangerous bleeding.

Common symptoms of the disease may include pain in the bones or joints, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, tiredness, bleeding, regular infections, and weight loss. There is no known way to prevent the condition and methods such as chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplants are used in attempt to treat the disease. Unfortunately, the side effects of chemotherapy, for example, can be devastating and include fatigue, hair loss, infection, nausea, and anaemia.


Scientific literature boasts research into the anticancer effects of cannabinoids and shows a potential for their use in cases of leukaemia. A paper[1] published within the International Journal of Oncology explores the anticancer effects of certain cannabinoids when used with chemotherapy.

The authors of the paper state that cannabinoids have been shown to possess anticancer activity when used alone, although some of them show more potent effects against leukaemia cells when combined. For example, the authors mention that THC and CBD displayed more favourable effects when paired together as opposed to being used alone. Furthermore, cannabinoid pairs performed even more effectively when used along with chemotherapy agents. It was noted that using cannabinoids after chemotherapy resulted in a greater induction in the death of cancer cells.

The authors of the text state, “Our results suggest that when certain cannabinoids are paired together, the resulting product can be combined synergistically with common anti-leukaemia drugs allowing the dose of the cytotoxic agents to be dramatically reduced yet still remain efficacious.”

thc cbd and leukaemia

A study[2] published within the journal BioMed Central Cancer argues that THC has been proven to harbour anti-tumor activity. The researchers note that they have anecdotal evidence that THC may have contributed to disease control in a patient with leukaemia. The study was conducted in order to test this hypothesis. The researchers evaluated the effects of Dronabinol (a synthetic version of THC) against leukaemia cell lines. An antiproliferative effect occurred. It was found that cell death was mediated via the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. The authors of the paper concluded that, “Our study provides rigorous data to support clinical evaluation of THC as a low-toxic therapy option in a well defined subset of acute leukaemia patients.”


One mechanism by which cannabinoids may kill cancer cells is a process known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is a natural function of the human body that results in the controlled death of cells as a part of an organism's proper growth and development.

A paper[3] published within the journal Molecular Cancer Research displays that THC induces apoptosis in leukaemia T cells.


The studies above display the powerful effects of cannabinoids against cell lines in a laboratory setting. The next study displays a case study, with a sample size of one person, that demonstrates the potential of cannabinoids against leukaemia in a human. A paper[4] published within the journal Case Reports in Oncology documents a case study involving a 14 year old patient diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia. The patient underwent aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. However, all of these methods failed after a period of 34 months. With no conventional options left, the family of the patient started to orally administer cannabis extracts. A rapid dose-dependant correlation was observed.

The authors state that, “Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated and do not produce the generalised toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. The family found promise in an organisation known as Phoenix Tears, led by Rick Simpson who had treated several cancers with hemp oil, an extract from the cannabis plant. Rick worked with [the] family to help them prepare the extract.”

It was noted that during the treatment, cancer cell counts started to drop at some point. The researchers note that the cannabinoids within the extract had antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties. Unfortunately, the patient did pass away, however the authors state that “It must be noted that where our most advanced chemotherapeutic agents had failed to control the blast count and had devastating side effect[s] that ultimately resulted in the death of the patient, the cannabinoid therapy had no toxic side effects and only psychosomatic properties, with an increase in the patient’s vitality.”


It seems promising that the active compounds within the cannabis plant will play an effective role in the future of cancer treatment, whether that means they are used alone as primary therapies or in conjunction with current conventional therapies to enhance their outcomes and reduce adverse side effects.

External Resources:
  1. Anticancer effects of phytocannabinoids used with chemotherapy in leukaemia cells can be improved by altering the sequence of their administration
  2. Dronabinol has preferential antileukemic activity in acute lymphoblastic and myeloid leukemia with lymphoid differentiation patterns
  3. #9-Tetrahydrocannabinol-Induced Apoptosis in Jurkat Leukemia T Cells Is Regulated by Translocation of Bad to Mitochondria
  4. Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

Are you aged 18 or over?

The content on is only suitable for adults and is reserved for those of legal age.

Ensure you are aware of the laws of your country.

By clicking ENTER, you confirm
you are
18 years or older