Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Updated on November 8, 2021.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), is a type of cancer tending to affect American children and adolescents. ALL makes up around 20 percent of all cancers and brings on almost 3,000 new diagnoses a year.

Today, we’re seeing increasing evidence and number of studies linking medical marijuana and cancer — in a good way. Countless anecdotal success stories from patients using the herb to treat their cancer reveal this. Now, studies are suggesting medical marijuana leukemia treatment.

What Is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia?

ALL originates from your immature bone marrow white blood cells, known as lymphocytes.  New blood cells form in your bone marrow. Leukemia cells tend to rapidly invade your blood, often spreading to your other body parts, such as your:

  • Spinal cord and brain
  • Spleen
  • Testicles
  • Liver
  • Lymph nodes

The term “acute” in this form of leukemia means the cancer can rapidly progress if left untreated and could result in death within several months. The term lymphocytic refers to it developing from immature or early lymphocytes.

Causes of ALL

In many cases, acute lymphocytic leukemia doesn’t have a clear cause. However, specific factors can your risk of leukemia. These factors include:

  • Exposure to X-rays and other forms of radiation before birth
  • Certain chromosome issues
  • Benzene and other toxins
  • Past treatment with chemo drugs
  • A previous bone marrow transplant

Certain factors that can increase your risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia include:

  • Having a sibling with leukemia
  • Having a genetic disorder like Down syndrome
  • Being between the ages of 3 and 7, which is the range where leukemia tends to occur most

While ALL can occur in adults, it commonly affects children.

Types of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Since ALL doesn’t typically produce tumor masses, but rather affects your body’s bone marrow and often spreads to your other organs, your prognosis with acute lymphocytic leukemia depends on your age, your lab test results and other information like the subtype you have.

Physicians identify which subtype you have through two different systems. These are:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) system
  • The French, American and British (FAB) system

Your subtype of ALL determines what cell type your cancer originated in. When your oncologist knows this, they can decide on the right course of treatment for you.

WHO System

Physicians tend to use the WHO system most. It goes by what type of white blood cell became cancerous. Doctors benefit from this system, since it gives them information which allows them to plan treatment and figure out how well it will work.

With this system, there are three subtypes. These are:

  1. Most common adult type: Precursor B cell ALL
  2. Genetic changes indicate this type: Mature B cell ALL
  3. Common in men and young adults: Precursor T cell ALL

Since it’s similar to Burkitt lymphoma, another cancer, mature B cell ALL is sometimes called Burkitt-type ALL.

FAB System

Physicians use this system less. It’s an older system and separates ALL into three types. These are:

  1. L1: Your lymphocytes appear as mature lymphocytes.
  2. L3: Your lymphocytes look abnormal and are immature.
  3. L2: Your lymphocytes are between L1 and L2. Adults get this type the most.

If you’re not sure, you can ask your physician what system they’re using.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and Medical Marijuana

History of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Farber et al. opened the era of chemotherapy for ALL in 1948 by describing “temporary remissions” induced by a folic acid antagonist, aminopterin, in five kids with acute leukemia. In 1961, Frei at al. reinforced this landmark demonstration by achieving a 59 percent complete remission rate and an almost 20 percent two-year survival rate in almost 40 pediatric patients by combining methotrexate and mercaptopurine.

History typically gives the ancient Greeks credit for being the first to acknowledge cancer sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.E. In 1845, John Hughes Bennett officially diagnosed leukemia in Edinburgh. Cancer has been afflicting human beings for a long time, despite the disease hardly being recognized before the 20th century. In fact, scientists have found evidence of malignant cancer in fossilized bones that are nearly 2 million years old.

The rates for acute lymphocytic leukemia have been trending slightly upward, rising 0.6 percent on average annually over the last decade.

Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

ALL symptoms may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Gum bleeding
  • Frequent infections
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lumps around the underarm, neck, groin or abdomen caused by swollen lymph nodes
  • Pale skin
  • Severe or frequent nosebleeds
  • Fatigue, weakness or a decrease in energy

Many symptoms of acute lymphocytic leukemia mimic symptoms of the flu. The difference is, flu symptoms tend to improve, where ALL symptoms don’t.

Effects of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

ALL can bring about a host of physical and psychological effects.

Physical Effects of Leukemia

Complications can arise with ALL, such as:


If you have ALL, you’ll bruise and bleed more easily, since your blood has low levels of platelets, or clot-forming cells. While it’s uncommon to have major bleeding, there is a chance it could occur inside your:

  • Lungs — referred to as pulmonary hemorrhage
  • Skull — referred to as intracranial hemorrhage
  • Stomach — referred to as gastrointestinal hemorrhage


Many ALL treatments may cause infertility. This symptom is usually temporary in most patients, but in some, it could become permanent. You’re at a higher risk of infertility if you’ve received high doses of radiation therapy and chemotherapy to prepare for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Psychological Effects of Leukemia

Receiving a leukemia diagnosis can be extremely distressing, especially if there’s no cure likely. It may be hard at first to take in the news, especially if you’re not currently experiencing any symptoms of leukemia, but know you could experience severe problems in the future.

You may feel stressed having to wait several years to see how ALL will develop in you, which can cause severe depression and anxiety. You also may have trouble sleeping.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Statistics

According to, statistics surrounding ALL include:

  • Around three to four children who receive a leukemia diagnosis have ALL.
  • ALL is most common in kids under the age of 5, typically affecting kids between 2 and 4 years old.
  • Children’s five-year survival rate has improved immensely, and is now 90 percent.

Around 5,970 children and adults in the U.S. in 2017 will receive an ALL diagnosis, and about 1,440 of these people will die from it, reports the National Cancer Institute. Based upon data collected from 2003 to 2013, 68.2 percent of people with acute lymphocytic leukemia survive five years or longer after being diagnosed with the disease.

all deaths

Current Treatments Available for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and Their Side Effects

Leukemia is a group of subtypes or related diseases. Because of this, the treatment you get depends on the subtype you have and other factors. You could even have more than one treatment, which may include:


Chemo uses combined anticancer medications, usually over the course of a couple of years. Some of the ALL chemo medications may include the below generic names and brand names shown in parentheses:

  • Cytarabine (Cytosar)
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • PEG-L-asparaginase (Oncaspar) or L-asparaginase (Elspar)
  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) or daunorubicin (Cerubidine)
  • Etoposide (VP-16)
  • Methotrexate oral (Xatmep)
  • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall)
  • 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP, Purinethol)
  • Vincristine (Oncovin)
  • Steroids (dexamethasone, prednisone)
  • Teniposide (Vumon)

With chemo, you may experience side effects such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, infection, changes in your appetite and other adverse effects.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells using high-energy radiation, although physicians don’t typically use this treatment for ALL. However, doctors could use it to treat leukemia in the bones or brain.

Radiation therapy has side effects, including skin reactions like rash, dryness, blistering or peeling, shortness of breath, nausea, tooth decay and other effects.

Targeted Therapy

This treatment uses medications for targeting specific cancer cell parts and doesn’t have the harsh side effects of chemo.

With targeted therapy, you may experience high blood pressure, skin problems such as nail changes, dry skin or rash, gastrointestinal problems and problems with wound healing and blood clotting.

A Bone Marrow Transplant

A bone marrow transplant uses high chemo doses and potentially radiation therapy. Bone-forming stem cell transplantation follows it. Sometimes, the stem cells come from a donor, or the doctor can get it from your peripheral blood or bone marrow.

You may experience side effects such as infections, infertility, organ damage and even death as a result of a bone marrow transplant. Therefore, it’s important you talk with your doctor to go over the risks and benefits of the procedure.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

An increasing number of studies suggest medical weed can treat cancer and its treatment side effects. More and more anecdotal success stories are popping up about patients using this herb to treat their symptoms. Because of this, medical pot is becoming a popular treatment for cancer. Two Canadian researchers conducted a study suggesting cannabis extracts are a potential treatment for ALL.

all cannabis oils

In one study, a 14-year-old female patient went through chemo and radiation treatment for 34 months with no response to her severe type of leukemia. After failing standard treatments, her doctors sent her home for palliative care.

Her family learned about cannabis extracts, and having no other options, decided to give hemp oil a try. They learned many studies have shown certain cannabinoid mechanisms kill cancer cells, and started treating her with cannabis oil. Before treatment, doctors measured her cancer levels by her blood leukemic blast cell count.

For a couple of weeks before she received marijuana for acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment, her blast count increased consistently. After five days of cannabis treatment, her count began drastically falling and went from a 374,000 peak to 300 in only 39 days.

In another study, a 3-year-old boy named Landon had ALL. He had leukemia tumors throughout his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe. His cancer progressed rapidly, leading physicians to tell his mother he only had an 8 percent chance of surviving. Doctors started him on chemo, but felt he wouldn’t make it.

After learning about marijuana and acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment, Landon’s mother got his medical marijuana card and started giving him cannabis. He received THC for his nausea and pain and CBD as well. Once she began giving him doses, she said his white and red blood cell count drastically increased. His condition improved to the point where she took him off chemo. After he stopped chemo, she said there were amazing results. He didn’t require any platelet or blood transfusions anymore.

What Side Effects and Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Medical cannabis for acute lymphocytic leukemia can help treat your ALL side effects, such as:

Medical cannabis also induces leukemia cell death. The CBD helps prevent complications in patients receiving a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, lowering their risk of graft-versus-host disease. This complication occurs when transplanted cells attack your body.

Research shows cannabinoids help increase chemo treatment’s effects for leukemia patients. UK researchers found CBD and THC, cannabis’s two major cannabinoids, were highly effective when combined with chemo.

marijuana chemo effects

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Cancer patients have been turning to medical marijuana to relieve their cancer-treatment related symptoms like pain and nausea. However, recently, researchers are starting to report medical weed slows or even kills cancer cells in some cases. Below is a list of medical cannabis strains found to be therapeutic for ALL patients.


  • Cookies and Cream (hybrid)
  • Harlequin (Sativa)


  • White Fire Kush (Sativa)
  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica)


  • Bubba Kush (Indica)
  • Strawberry Cough (Sativa)

Nausea and Appetite Loss

  • Chemo (Indica)
  • Cookies and Cream (hybrid)

Fatigue or Decrease in Energy/Weakness

  • Durban Poison (Sativa)
  • Jillybean (hybrid)

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Side Effects and Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Various marijuana for acute lymphocytic leukemia methods allow you to benefit from cannabis’ potential therapeutic properties for ALL. Along with smoking the herb — which is the unhealthiest method — you can also get your treatment using the following methods:

When it comes to using medical marijuana, you have a lot of consumption options. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine which way of using is the best one to get your treatment for your ALL as new strains and methods become available. You’ll have to experiment and find the consuming option you like best.

Steps to Become a Medical Cannabis Patient for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia

Many states have legalized medical cannabis use for qualified health conditions, including cancer. First, however, you need to have a licensed doctor give you a diagnosis of your qualifying health condition and a recommendation for you to get a medical marijuana card. You can do all this easily, just search for a cannabis dispensary or connect with a medical marijuana doctor here on the website. Then you can start realizing the therapeutic effects of cannabis and acute lymphocytic leukemia treatment for yourself.

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