“If you treat leukemia with hemp oil it often produces very dramatic results quickly. Leukemia, with my experience with hemp oil, is one of the easiest internal cancers to cure. The first place the THC goes after entering the body is directly into the bloodstream. If cancer is present in the bloodstream it won’t be present for long.”

             Rick Simpson, Author of Phoenix Tears


     Leukemia is a blood cancer that usually begins in the bone marrow where various blood cells are manufactured and is characterized by a high number of abnormal blood cells that are not normally developed. These leukemic cells are called blasts and increased numbers of these cells are a hallmark of the disease. These aberrant cells proliferate rapidly and do not function normally as lymphocytes. Symptoms of the disease include bleeding, bruising, tiredness, increased infections, enlarged spleen, and fever. Some patients also suffer from pain, insomnia, nausea, and weight loss. Increased numbers of lymphocytes are present, and these cells are not formed properly so they cannot function normally. Some patients will also have lymph node involvement or swelling, and other symptoms.

     Leukemia can have four distinct subtypes – acute lymphoblastic (ALL), acute myeloid (AML), chronic lymphocytic (CLL), and acute myelogenous (AML).

The CML variety has an excellent prognosis by using Gleevec, a relatively new drug patented by Dr. Drucker in Washington state. This drug treatment is very effective for CML, and many of these patients go into remission. Other forms of leukemia may use other drug therapies and be more difficult to achieve remission than in CML.

     The treatment for leukemia depends on the subtype but can involve chemotherapy, radiation, drug treatments, bone marrow transplants, and palliative care. The average five-year survival rate is about 60% but improving as new treatments and therapies are instituted. Children diagnosed with the disease often have an improved survival rate, and higher rates of remission are possible with kids.

     Let’s investigate the above quote from Rick Simpson, and see what role cannabis can play in this disease…. Rick Simpson is a prominent advocate in the cannabis industry and feels that cannabinoids can directly combat cancer – especially his patented hemp oil (RSO). He developed and extracted hemp oil from cannabis plants RSO – Rick Simpson Oil – and he is himself very convinced of the benefit and uses of hemp oil to combat and help cure cancer. Rick is a strong advocate for cannabis and cancer, at times almost crazy in his rants about how well hemp oil can work for cancer. He claims to have treated hundreds of patients with cancer using his oil with dramatic results. You can see him for yourself thru his website Phoenix tears, and he is also on you-tube with his videos. He is not generally accepted by the medical community, and his views are considered non-validated and extreme. However, he is so adamant about his discovery of using hemp oil for cancer that his work should be taken seriously, although most of his cases are anecdotal and not using clinical controlled studies.                  

     Most oncologists (80%) recommend cannabis for their cancer patients in the US. It is excellent to aid in CINV (chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting), weight gain, nausea, pain, and sleeping – and to provide palliative care. Studies in animal models in vivo, and human cell tests in vitro (lab results from test tube research) demonstrate various beneficial results using cannabis to directly combat cancer to prevent its spread, blood supply, metastasis, and increase the death rate of cancer cells (Apoptosis).

     There are many studies of leukemia and cannabis going back to the ’70s and even earlier, and some are quite technical and difficult to interpret. We will review some of these studies, and point out some of the important issues that relate to cannabis and leukemia.

     One key feature about the cannabinoids and leukemia is relatively clear –in studies, it has been shown the combination of THC and CBD together work better than each cannabinoid separately…. This is pretty much a well-known fact “the entourage effect”.

     Patients with leukemia who require chemotherapy may be treated using cytarabine and vincristine as their chemotherapeutic agent, and studies show that the concurrent use of cannabinoids after chemotherapy potentiates and enhances the effect of the chemo on killing cancer cells and improving patient outcomes. This also indicates that a lower therapeutic dose of the chemo agent is needed if used in conjunction with cannabinoids thereby reducing any negative side effects of the chemotherapy. Cannabis is also proven very beneficial in these patients to control nausea and vomiting induced by the chemotherapy.

      In addition, there is often relief of pain and anxiety afforded by using cannabis for leukemia patients and increased ability to sleep comfortably through the night.

The majority of these studies are using high-grade THC and CBD extracts, often in large concentrations, so similar benefits may not be seen simply by smoking cannabis. Rick Simpson’s protocol - that uses RSO hemp oil usually involves ramping up THC dose gradually, and ingesting 90 grams of his hemp oil over a three-month period, with doses twice a day.

     This fairly recent article from the “Case Reports in Oncology” 2015 gives an idea as to the attitude and belief of many if not all oncologists… those who treat cancer specifically.


“There has been an abundance of research exhibiting the cytotoxic effects of cannabinoids on leukemic cell lines in the form of in vitro and in vivo studies [1, 2, 3, 4]. An oncology and hematology journal, Blood, has published numerous papers [2] over the years constructing the biochemical pathway to be elicited by the anticancer properties of cannabinoids. Our goal, upon examination of this significant case study which demonstrated complete disease control and a dose-response curve, is to invest effort in and to focus on research and development to advance this therapy. An emphasis needs to be placed on determining the correct cannabinoid ratios for different types of cancer, the best method of administration, quality control and standardization of the cannabis strains and their growing conditions as well as therapeutic dosing ranges for various cancers contingent on staging and ages.”



     Other studies have been performed in clinical trials usually in animals or test tubes, but report positive anti-cancer activity in lymphocytes possibly due to their CB1 and particularly CB2 receptors located on the cell membranes. As such, their stimulation or modulation by either endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids can play a role in cell development, function, maturity, and apoptosis of leukemic cells. When research on cannabis ramps ups in this country, many new discoveries will be made, perhaps some that will help those who suffer from this disease.

      Government regulations, persistent stigmas, lack of knowledge, and replacing previous norms with a more medical and open understanding of cannabis will allow this research to happen. So far, studies implicate at least an effect of cannabinoids on this disease, in addition to palliative and chemotherapeutic advantages as well. It seems Rick Simpson may have been on to something with his cancer and hemp oil claims… and if not, then little to no harm is done by trying, due to the proven minimal or nil toxicity of cannabis. Unlike Rick Simpson who shuns traditional medical care for cancer, I would recommend routine oncological care, but use cannabis in conjunction with traditional therapies until further studies are available and can better determine if cannabinoids can be used as a sole agent.