CBD, Prostate Cancer, and Just Carrying On


If you haven’t heard about CBD (cannabidiol, one of 113 “cannabinoids” found in Cannabis plants) you’re not spending much time online. As for me, I was fairly late to the party, having heard about CBD a while ago but filed it away in my pseudoscience dustbin. As with many things in life, though, I wrote it off too quickly.

In the Islington neighborhood of London, there’s a cool stretch of shops called Camden Passage. My wife turned me on to this area one day last fall. After lunch and a pint at a nearby pub, we checked out some of the shops there. On one street corner, I noticed a sandwich-board sign drawing attention to the availability of premium CBD oil at a store called EpicZen. My wife has zero interest in such things, so she headed into a boutique that sells hats and waistcoats made from Nigerian textiles. I made a beeline for EpicZen. After disregarding CBD early on, I’d taken a new interest in the compound after talking to a prodigiously pierced head-shop proprietor in Saratoga Springs. He told me CBD helps manage anxiety, a vexing condition I had developed since being diagnosed with prostate cancer the year before. He explained that CBD oil, derived from hemp, is non-psychoactive (it won’t get you high) but that it helps calm the central nervous system and is even used to treat seizures.

That’s a Whole Latte CBD

While I didn’t buy anything from the guy at the head-shop, I was tempted to make a purchase at EpicZen. The store didn’t feel skeevy at all: There weren’t any bongs or rolling papers to be found, and the products all felt seductively mainstream. They sold elegantly packaged teas, essential oils, candles, diffusers, lotions, and every conceivable CBD-based product. The man behind the “till” was a well-dressed hipster with a neatly trimmed beard and an intelligent face. Having no other customers at the moment, the fellow was happy to demystify CBD oils for me. He spoke of the importance of potency and purity, of flavored versus natural-tasting products. He steered me away from gimmicky items like CBD muffins or lattes; and, sensing I was someone who’d be impressed by business statistics, added that CBD is a billion-dollar market, expected to hit $2 billion by 2022. By the time I met my wife at the waistcoat store, I’d bought a small brown bottle of Hemptouch 15% CBD oil.

The EpicZen proprietor suggested I place three drops of the tincture under my tongue each morning to gauge its effect, then make daily dosage adjustments as necessary. The next morning I did as instructed and, well, I don’t know what non-psychoactive feels like, but those little drops definitely had an effect on my “psycho.” Within 10 minutes I sensed a kind of dullness set in—how you feel in those first moments of waking after an abbreviated night of sleep. It wasn’t a high so much as a sensation of mental sluggishness. With that feeling came a general attitude of  I don’t give a fuck about the little issues that sometimes gnaw at me. Oddly, it was like weed without the head buzz. Very unexpected overall.

Doing the Math on CBD and Prostate Cancer

After that initial onset of dullness, I found the tincture was pretty effective at quelling anxiety—without making me drool or stare off into space. At points, I felt sleepier than I would have liked, but it didn’t really impede my energy level. And so, having conducted my experiment, I began using CBD whenever anxiety’s fight-or-flight sensations made an unwelcome appearance. With time and auspicious circumstances, my anxiety retreated into its cage and my CBD use became rare—until, that is, I read an article suggesting it might be beneficial in fighting prostate cancer. This revelation was far more meaningful to me than its anxiety application, given the potential for recurrence any cancer survivor faces. My preliminary research revealed that the most promising studies of CBD had been conducted in vitro and in mouse studies and suggested that cannabinoids like CBD…

  1. Render cancer cells less viable and “more prone to apoptosis (programmed cell death)”
  2. Decrease androgen receptor activity on cancer cell surfaces (prostate cancer appears to be “fueled” by androgens, or male hormones)
  3. Discourage the formation of tumor blood vessels needed by cancer tumors to nourish themselves

Naturally, for every encouraging article on cannabinoids there are cautionary ones calling for more testing and reminding us that all findings are inconclusive.

Considering that list of possible CBD benefits, I did some basic math:

 1  Definite improvement in anxiety

+ 3 Potential benefits related to prostate cancer

+ 0 Scary side effects

= Worth trying

Maybe that’s not scientific math, but it works for me, and, as long as I stay apprised of the science on CBD, the risk (particularly with my low dosage) seems almost nil. Articles on CBD note that laws against marijuana use have made funding for cannabinoid research problematic, resulting in an under-developed body of knowledge. Still, I’m moving ahead cautiously. Frankly, if I’d taken a more aggressive attitude about PSA screenings and disregarded the conflicting research in the press, I might have gotten screened five years earlier—and saved myself a ton of worry. As a consequence, I’ve learned not to await some elusive scientific consensus when it comes to my health. Medicine is imperfect and conservative, and at some point one needs to take action based on best available information and a commitment to course-correct as more information becomes available. If CBD does nothing for my prostate cancer, at least I’ll be notably more chill at my next PSA test.

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