The Use of Medical Cannabis in Patients with Breast Cancer
The cannabis plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years, all around the globe, for a wide variety of conditions and ailments that people experience. For patients with breast cancer, cannabis offers multiple benefits which will be discussed in this article. These benefits include palliative measures to ease the difficulty of treatment of radiation, chemotherapy, and/or surgery. Cannabis can also increase the effectiveness of some chemotherapeutic agents, and eliminate the need for other pharmaceuticals that are often used in this disease. Please obtain traditional medical treatment for your breast cancer, as there is a relatively high success rate using standard therapies. Cannabis can be used as adjunctive therapy, to improve the prognosis, and counteract some of the harmful side effects of treatment. Other modalities of treatment for breast cancer such as surgery or radiation, are also positively impacted by cannabis – for example, reduction of pain, or treatment of the skin using cannabinoid products applied to the affected areas to ease radiation burns.
Specifically, the use of cannabis during your treatment can help eliminate or minimize chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) that is often experienced by breast cancer patients who receive chemotherapy as part of their treatment. During your infusion, you will receive anti-emetics, dexamethasone, amend, or other agents to reduce CINV. The problem of delayed CINV arises generally about 24-36 hours after your infusion, and this is the time to incorporate cannabis into your drug regimen. Cannabis has shown to be a highly effective agent for reducing delayed nausea and vomiting and also counteracts the fatigues and flu-like symptoms that chemotherapy often causes. For this reason, approximately 80% of oncologists favor its use, as that profession recognizes the value. However, most are restricted from prescribing it due to legal or corporate reasons. A pill form – Marinol – is a THC isolate that can be prescribed but it is not very effective and it is very expensive. It is better to vape or uses a tincture from a medical cannabis pharmacy and get the whole plant benefit. Edibles can also work, but not ideal due to possible vomiting or expulsion of the drug.
Cachexia, or lack of appetite, is also an issue which many chemo patients suffer causing poor appetite, weight loss, and general wasting syndrome due to inadequate caloric intake. It is widely known that cannabis stimulates the appetite, and for this reason, it is ideal to use cannabis to obtain proper nutrition, and prevent weight loss. The ingredient here of interest is THC, as it is a strong appetite stimulant. Interestingly, the cannabinoid THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) happens to be an appetite suppressant. So, a strain of cannabis high in THCV should be omitted. This information about THCV content can be found on the strain fingerprint, which is available for most strains on the internet, or an inquiry directed to the dispensary.
Although chemotherapy can cause extreme fatigue and immobility, sleep cycles are often interrupted in breast cancer treatment and the use of the proper strain of cannabis can greatly improve sleep. This is an almost universal effect of cannabis, and all users report better and more restful sleep using cannabis a few hours before bedtime. Proper dosage, strains, and ingestion techniques can be discussed with your cannabis provider or doctor to help promote proper sleep.
Cancer treatment and diagnosis often involves some degree of apprehension, anxiety, and worrying about the outcome, and what the future will hold. Attitude has been shown to be a factor in cancer recovery, with optimism and a positive outlook correlating with increased success. Cannabis, and particularly those strains with moderate amounts of CBD, have been shown to reduce anxiety (anxiolytic) and allow a calming of the mind, and reduced anxiety about your disease.
Several recent studies have also indicated that cannabis may reduce peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients, at least in those that experience this condition. If used prophylactically before neuropathy develops, some studies indicate it may actually prevent it from occurring.
While it is beyond the scope of this article, it is certainly worth mentioning that it has been shown in both laboratory animals and rats, and in studies in vitro (in test tubes or Petri dishes) that cannabinoids may have a role in preventing or lessening the cancer cells themselves. Human studies are sparse in this country, but other countries are starting or engaging in human randomized controlled clinical studies to explore the effect cannabis has directly on cancer cells. Anecdotal and lab studies, as well as studies using human cancer cell lines, are being performed. These studies indicate the possibility that with breast, prostate, brain, and lung cancer cell lines in test tubes that cannabinoids can act as an anti-angiogenesis agent to deprive cancer cells of blood supply limiting their growth. They also can cause apoptosis or death of certain cancer cells. Further studies have shown promise in cannabinoids being anti-metastatic agents, which prevent the spread of cancer and also anti-proliferative to limit the size of the cancer growth in general. One important issue is to recognize that the use of cannabis is not related to causing any particular type of cancer and is generally an anti-cancer agent so it is safe to use in patients with breast cancer, or any other type of cancer as well.
The technique or use of cannabis in breast cancer patients warrants some guidelines and of course, this may depend on each unique patient experience and each patient’s treatment protocol. The strain of cannabis is a factor, but in general terms, a 50-50 balance of CBD and THC is recommended. The THC: CBD ratio should be 1:1, or in this general area. Higher THC levels are fine as long as psychoactive effects are well tolerated by the patient. Because of CINV, oral or edible ingestion is not ideal. A tincture designed for sublingual absorption is a good choice. Dosage can be adjusted based on the patient’s profile, his cannabis use experience, and the type of result desired. Here again, a certified provider or well- versed dispensary agent can be beneficial. Vaporization, smoking, or sublingual delivery is best. Quick and immediate results are best seen in vaping or smoking, as tinctures have a delayed effect and prolonged duration.
A nice and suitable technique for breast cancer patients is to use RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) derived from a mixed strain with both CBD and THC introduced sublingually. This material comes in a syringe, and is very sticky and difficult to handle and ingest properly. One technique that works well is to express carefully a rice size piece of the oil onto the end of a coffee stir and then place it under the tongue for a few minutes. Then repeat on the other side underneath your tongue.
Absorption occurs in about 20 minutes, it is ok to swallow some with no ill effect. A handheld vaporizer, or a convection vaporizer such as the Volcano, is also an excellent way to deliver cannabis to your body using the flowers, or buds, from the plant.
In summary, the use of medical cannabis under proper supervision can be a tremendous aid in ameliorating the side effects from breast cancer treatment, and quite possibly also play a role in preventing the growth or the spread of cancer. This claim awaits further studies, but preliminary studies are very promising and new discoveries are being investigated. These studies have been conducted outside of the US, because the federal regulations and illegality in our country currently prevent them from being conducted, but this is a changing environment.