BY MARIE LODI
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in the United States, except for some types of skin cancers. Currently, there is a 13% chance that a woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. And, while less common, men can also get breast cancer. An estimated 268,600 women and 2,670 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2019. Recent studies point to the promising possible role of cannabis in the treatment of breast cancer.
Research has shown cannabinoids to have anti-cancer properties as well as the potential to slow down the growth of certain tumors. One study showed CBD to be efficacious in significantly reducing breast cancer cell proliferation and invasion, where another study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in April 2019 shows cannabinoids to inhibit breast cancer progression.
A study published in 2018 explored the effects of both a full-spectrum THC oil and a THC isolate when combined with standard chemotherapy drugs. According to Project CBD, the study found that both had antitumoral properties, but the full-spectrum oil worked better than the THC isolate for three different breast cancer subtypes. This highlights the significance of the Entourage Effect, in which multiple cannabis components (cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids) synergistically work together, resulting in a greater impact than if the cannabinoids worked alone (isolate). Various terpenes found in cannabis have their own anticancer and antitumoral properties. Another study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2014, supported the idea of the Entourage Effect, as it showed that the combination of both CBD and THC enhanced the antitumor effectiveness compared to isolating either one.
Another important benefit cannabis may have in regards to cancer treatment has to do with the side effects. The American Cancer Society points to various studies that show cannabis can help with nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, as well as provide relief for neuropathic pain and appetite loss.
A May 2019 article in The New York Times tells the story of a woman named Diana Martinez who was diagnosed with breast cancer and began taking chemotherapy with taxane, which is known to have a variety of side effects. Martinez began to experience tinnitus, and also lost feeling in her lower limbs. The side effects got so bad, she quit chemo, and decided to try CBD. After six weeks, the symptoms began to go away. “I could walk down the street, type on a computer. It was gone. It seemed fairly miraculous. It still does,” she said. Martinez ended up completing chemo with less side effects. Actress Olivia Newton-John, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and again in 2013 and 2018, has praised the benefits of cannabis, and consumes it in oil form to help with pain maintenance and sleep. “It’s an amazing plant, a maligned plant, but it’s helping so many people,” Newton-John told People in March.
As Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a pioneer of cannabis research, once said, plant cannabinoids are a “neglected pharmacological treasure trove.” More research is certainly needed to fully understand how cannabis may impact cancer cells and help breast cancer patients find relief, but the findings so far are quite promising.