8.9 Leukemia


Leukemia generally refers to cancers of blood-forming tissues in the bone marrow. The disease usually affects one of the two major types of white blood cells: lymphocytes and granulocytes. Leukemias arising from lymphocytes are called lymphocytic leukemias; those arising from granulocytes are called myeloid or myelogenous leukemias[harvard-overview].

Lymphocytic leukemia is composed of immature lymphocytes floating in the bloodstream. Immature lymphocytes are known as lymphoblasts, so lymphoblastic leukemia is another term for this type of leukemia. When lymphocytes mature, they leave the bloodstream and reside in the lymph system.

Lymphocytic cells are mainly B cells and T cells. Myeloid cells are primarily monocytes and macrophages[msd-manual].

In a clinical setting, both lymphocytic and myeloid leukemias can be classified as chronic or acute[msd-manual].

Human leukemias have significantly more CB2 receptors than other types of tumors. Surprisingly, CBD acts as an agonist for these CB2 receptors[survey-overview-CB2].

Unless otherwise noted, all studies are in vitro studies of human cells.

lymphocytic leukemias

Killing Cancer Cells

THC induces apoptosis in lymphocytic leukemia cells[Lomb_2005][Jia_2006][Powel_2005].

Eucalyptol kills leukemia cells[Mote_2002]. So does apigenin[Vargo_2006].

BCP and BCPO increase the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin against doxorubicin-resistant childhood lymphoblastic leukemia cells[Giac_2016].

α-Terpineol is cytotoxic against human lymphoblastic leukemia cells, chronic myeloid leukemia cells, acute myeloid leukemia cells, and acute erythroid leukemia cells[Sobra_2014, lin].

4-Terpineol is cytotoxic against lymphoblastic leukemia T cells, also against human chronic myeloid leukemia cells[Sobra_2014, terp-4]. α-Bisabolol is cytotoxic against human B-chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells[Rigo_2018].

Myeloid Leukemias

Killing Cancer Cells

Linalool induces apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia cells[Kuro_2011].

Chronic myeloid leukemia is usually the result of having the BCR-ABL gene. For these cancers, α-bisabolol dramatically enhances the chemotherapy drugs imatinib and nilotinib[massi_2012].

α-Terpineol is cytotoxic against chronic myeloid leukemia cells, acute myeloid leukemia cells, and acute erythroid leukemia cells[Sobra_2014]. 4-Terpineol is cytotoxic against human chronic myeloid leukemia cells[Sobra_2014, terp-4].

Terpinolene is cytotoxic against human myeloid leukemia cells[Okum_2011].  So is d-limonene[Bica_2011]. Eucalyptol is cytotoxic against myeloid leukemia cells, also against cancerous B cells[Sobra_2014, euc].

Perillyl alcohol is effective in killing chronic myeloid leukemia cells[Bica_2011].

Halting Cell Division

Apigenin induces cell cycle arrest in myeloid leukemia cells but also interferes with the commonly used chemotherapy drug vincristine[Sousa_2010]. 

Controlling Cytokines

IL-6 elevation contributes to the development of chronic myeloid leukemia[Reynaud_2101].

Chronic myeloid leukemia patients have responded well to the IL-6 inhibitors dasatinib and imatinib[Nakamae_2017][Cortes_2016]. See Taming Inflammatory Cytokines
for additional ideas on taming IL-6.


harvard-overview. Leukemia (Overview). Exposition. Unattributed. Hartford Health. 2019 February 11.

msd-manual. Overview of Leukemia. Introduction. Ashkan Emadi, MD, PhD (bio); Jennie York Law, MD (bio). Merck publishing. 2020 May.

survey-overview-CB2. CBD and leukaemia/lymphoma [in Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug]. Full text. Massi P, Solinas M, Cinquina V, Parolaro D. British journal of clinical pharmacology. Online 2012 April 17.

Lomb_2005. Targeting cannabinoid receptors to treat leukemia: role of cross-talk between extrinsic and intrinsic pathways in Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-induced apoptosis of Jurkat cells. Abstract. Lombard C, Nagarkatti M, Prakash P S. Leukemia research. Online 2005 March 2.

Jia_2006. Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol-induced apoptosis in Jurkat leukemia T cells is regulated by translocation of Bad to mitochondria. Abstract. Jia W, Hegde V L, Singh N P, et al. Molecular cancer research. Published 2006 August.

massi_2012. α-bisabolol Is an Effective Proapoptotic Agent against BCR-ABL+ Cells in Synergism with Imatinib and Nilotinib. Full text. Bonifacio M, Rigo A, Emanuele Guardalben E, et al. PLoS One. 2012 October 3.

Powel_2005. Cannabis-induced cytotoxicity in leukemic cell lines: the role of the cannabinoid receptors and the MAPK pathway. Full text.
Thomas Powles T, te Poele R, Shamash J, et al. Blood. 2004 September 28.

Mote_2002. Specific induction of apoptosis by 1,8-cineole in two human leukemia cell lines, but not a in human stomach cancer cell line. Abstract. Moteki H, Hibasami H, Yamada Y. Oncology reports. 2002 July 1.

Vargo_2006. Apigenin-induced-apoptosis is mediated by the activation of PKCdelta and caspases in leukemia cells. Abstract. A Vargo M A, H Voss O H, Poustka F, et al. Biochemical pharmacology. Online 2006 July 17.

Giac_2016. Chemosensitizing Properties of β-Caryophyllene and β-Caryophyllene Oxide in Combination with Doxorubicin in Human Cancer Cells. Abstract. DI Giacomo S, DI Sotto A, Mazzanti G, Wink M. Anticancer research. Published 2016 March.

icon icons/globeicon.png. Sobra_2014. Antitumor Activity of Monoterpenes Found in Essential Oils

Sobra_2014, lin. 1.1\. Linalyl Acetate, Alpha-Terpineol, and Camphor. Summary. Sobral M, Xavier A L, Lima T C, de Sousa D P. ScientificWorldJournal. Online 2014 October 14.

Okum_2011. Terpinolene, a component of herbal sage, lowers AKT1 expression in K562 cells. Full text. Okumura N, Yoshida H, Nishimura Y, et al. Oncology letters. Online 2011 November 18.

Bica_2011. Evaluation of the antioxidant and antiproliferative potential of bioflavors. Abstract. BicasabI J L, Neri-Numaa A, Ruiz L T G, et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2011 July.

Sobra_2014, euc. 1.20\. 1,8-Cineole/Eucalyptol. Overview. ~. ~. ~.

Sobra_2014, terp-4. 1.22\. Terpinen-4-ol. Overview. ~. ~. ~.

Rigo_2018. Efficient lysis of B-chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells by the plant-derived sesquiterpene alcohol α-bisabolol, a dual proapoptotic and antiautophagic agent. Full text. Rigo A, Ferrarini I, Bonalumi A, et al. Oncotarget. Online 2018 May 25.

Sousa_2010. Cytotoxicity of apigenin on leukemia cell lines: implications for prevention and therapy. Full text. Ruela-de-Sousa R R, Fuhler G M, Blom N, et al. Cell death & disease. 2010 January.

Kuro_2011. Kuromoji (Lindera umbellata) essential oil-induced apoptosis and differentiation in human leukemia HL-60 cells. Full text.
Maeda H, Yamazaki M, Katagata Y. Experimental and therapeutic medicine. 2011 September 27.

Reynaud_2101. IL-6 Controls Leukemic Multipotent Progenitor Cell Fate and Contributes to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Development. Extended abstract. Reynaud, D, Pietras E, Barry-Holson K, et al. Cancer cell. 2011 November 11.

Nakamae_2017. Dasatinib versus imatinib in Japanese patients with newly diagnosed chronic phase chronic myeloid leukemia: a subanalysis of the DASISION 5-year final report. Abstract. Nakamae H, Fujisawa S, Ogura M, et al. International journal of hematology. Online 2017 March 24.

Cortes_2016. Final 5-Year Study Results of DASISION: The Dasatinib Versus Imatinib Study in Treatment-Naïve Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Patients Trial. Full text. Cortes J E, Saglio G, Hagop M, Kantarjian H M, et al. Journal of clinical oncology. Online 2016 May 23.