Does Cannabis Treat Breast Cancer?

By Gooey Rabinski | November 20, 2015

Cancer is a family of related diseases involving the abnormal growth of cells within various systems of the body. Cancerous cells are so dangerous because they rapidly divide and spread into surrounding tissues. Many types of cancer result in tumors, which are solid masses of tissue that may interfere with bodily functions; when appearing in the brain, tumors may cause seizures, pain, and abnormal behavior.

In the United States, nearly 600,000 victims are claimed each year to cancer; its treatment is a $150 billion annual business. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. Globally, there were 14 million new cases in 2012 and more than eight million deaths.

Cannabis for Breast Cancer

Among believers and many researchers and scientists, cannabis is well known for being an effective treatment for a wide variety of cancers, including ceasing or reversing progress of the core disease, as well as effectively treating several of its symptoms. With more than 100 types of cancer afflicting tens of millions of people — including cancers of the lungs, breast, skin, colon, prostate, and brain — breast cancer is one of the most prevalent types of this disease. It is estimated that one in eight women will, at some point in their lives, develop the disease, which is the most common type of cancer among females. It accounts for about 10-15 percent of all cases of cancer in women globally.

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In 2008, breast cancer was responsible for the death of nearly half a million women around the world. Unfortunately, many types of this disease remain resistant to conventional pharmaceutical treatments. There are three different subtypes of breast cancer, with cannabis believed to be most effective for HER2-positive and triple-negative types of breast tumors. This is especially promising for patients with triple-negative, which affects about 15 percent of those with the disease, because no standard therapy exists for this variant and patient prognosis remains poor.

Some studies have revealed that cannabinoid receptors are overexpressed in the tumors of particular cancers, such as those of the breast, liver, lungs, and prostate. Cannabinoids from cannabis bind with these overexpressed receptors and either switch off the cell’s ability to divide and replicate or simply kill it (apoptosis).

In this manner, multiple cannabinoids (CBD and THC) can work in tandem with the body’s endocannabinoid system to induce cancer cell death, inhibit cell growth, or prevent the metastasis (spread) of cancer cells. In addition, cannabinoids help prevent good, healthy cells from being damaged by neighboring or traveling cancer cells. Cannabis also delivers no major negative side effects, unlike most pharmaceutical therapies, opiates for pain management, and chemotherapy.

Multiple Uses for Breast Cancer Patients

There are many ways in which breast cancer patients can administer cannabis for their disease, sometimes with a focus on a particular cannabinoid like CBD or THC. Patients can choose between smoking or vaporizing (or vaping) the ground flowers of the herb. Another promising option is concentrates, especially solventless varieties. These potent and often purified forms of pot are a favorite of very sick patients who must battle their disease on a daily basis and may need the most powerful solution available. Patients who suffer chronic pain or nausea also build up a large tolerance to cannabis, requiring the strong dose that can only be delivered by a concentrate like hash oil, CO2 oil, or live resin.

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While typically used by lifestyle enhancers, dabbing is another option for patients who don’t enjoy smoking and wish to consume a large amount of medicine in a single dose. Dabbing with concentrates, which necessarily vaporizes them, can deliver the THC and CBD equivalent of an entire joint of mid-grade or even premium medical cannabis in a single toke.

Those who prefer a safer route of inhalation (most dab rigs require a blow torch) should investigate a vaporizer. Available in discreet pen, mobile, or traditional full-size desktop models, vaporizers offer harm reduction and none of the toxic chemicals associated with combustion of the plant during smoking. Also, most vaporizers, especially newer models, accommodate both cannabis flowers or concentrates. Vaporizers are also good for patients in prohibitionist states who must disguise their cannabis consumption, preventing the intense smell typically generated by smoking.

At a minimum, breast cancer patients can use cannabis as an adjunct (supplemental) treatment to their core pharmaceutical therapy — probably involving chemotherapy and possibly radiation. Patients with more confidence in the kind herb may choose to decrease or fully replace conventional treatments like chemotherapy with cannabis. Some patients, who have been diagnosed with late stage cancer with no possible benefit from standard therapies, have chosen to treat themselves with only a purified diet and CBD or THC/CBD oil on a daily basis; some claim to have sent their cancer into remission.

Cancer Institutes Weigh In

Several research organization, some of which are ironically funded by or part of the federal government, have recognized the potential role of cannabis and major cannabinoids like CBD and THC in fighting diseases like breast cancer. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): “Recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others.”

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Even the federal government’s own Food and Drug Administration has voiced its opinion that more research is needed to fully understand the potential of the chemical components of cannabis in the treatment of cancer. “Study of marijuana in clinical trial settings is needed to assess the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for medical use,” wrote the organization on its website.

The National Cancer Institute, part of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health outside of Washington, D.C., published on its website the benefits of cannabis for cancer patients:

“The potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.”

Treating Cancer Symptoms

In addition to treating the core disease of breast cancer by inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to spread or simply killing them, cannabis is an undisputed benefit in terms of decreasing the negative side effects of the disease and its treatment. While it acts as an analgesic (pain killer) and helps reduce the severe anxiety associated with a life-threatening or terminal disease, the most beneficial use of the herb for patients with breast cancer may be in reducing or eliminating the nausea associated with chemotherapy.

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Often, symptoms of a disease will cause a chain reaction of negative side effects. In the case of all cancer patients, including those suffering from breast cancer, anxiety can lead to insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Such problems typically result in decreased health and additional problems, such as depression. Depending on the strain employed, cannabis has proven to be an effective sleep aid and powerful anecdote to depression and hopelessness. It not only acts as an anti-anxiety agent, allowing patients to relax and reach a state of slumber, but also contains terpenes such as linalool and cannabinoids like CBN, both of which have proven their efficacy as sleep aids and sedatives.

The Studies

As in all areas of disease treatment with cannabis, research regarding the specific efficacy of cannabinoids like THC and CBD for breast cancer has been limited to preclinical trials, none of which have involved humans (instead, cell cultures and animal models have been substituted). Because all mammals have an endocannabinoid system, study results obtained from rodent and primate subjects are scientifically applicable to humans.

A 2012 study conducted in San Francisco at the California Pacific Medical Center revealed that the cannabinoid CBD somehow deactivated the gene responsible for the spread of breast cancer cells, ID-1. When treated with CBD, breast cancer cells ceased spreading, but didn’t die. Instead, they returned to normal. This study was based on similar research conducted in 2007.

“What we found was that his cannabidiol could essentially ‘turn off’ the ID-1 [gene].”

The researchers, who have been experimenting with CBD for the treatment of various cancers since their initial study in 2007, first began by investigating the efficacy of cannabinoids like CBD. “We started by researching breast cancer,” said Pierre Desprez, one of the two researchers responsible for this series of studies. “But now we’ve found that cannabidiol [CBD] works with many kinds of aggressive cancers — brain, prostate — any kind in which these high levels of ID-1 are present.”

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The researchers of this study emphasized that relatively large doses of CBD were necessary to elicit such a change in the cancer cells and that smoking even plants high in CBD would be insufficient to deal with the disease in the manner they observed. This further illustrates the valuable role of cannabis concentrates, including harm reducing solventless varieties, that can deliver a potent dose of cannabinoids and terpenes to the most sick patients, many of whom also build up considerable tolerances.

A 2014 study conducted at the California Pacific Medical Research Center and published in the British Journal of Pharmacology revealed that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD may be effective in preventing the spread of breast cancer cells. The researchers pointed out how CBD may be a more universally effective and benign therapy, avoiding the negative side effects of chemotherapy (which works for only a percentage of patients). Concluded researchers:

“[CBD] has a very low toxicity profile, whereas standard cancer treatments [like chemotherapy] are highly toxic.”

Another 2014 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry confirmed many previous studies by indicating that the infamous cannabinoid THC may be effective in shrinking or killing cancer cells within tumors. “Our findings help explain some of the well-known, but still poorly understood, effects of THC at low and high doses on tumor growth,” concluded the study.

Dr. Peter McCormick, co-author of this research conducted at the University of East Anglia in England, said:

“THC, the major active component of marijuana, has anti-cancer properties.”

More Research Needed

The women of America should be demanding that Congress not only allow, but expedite the serious research of cannabis and its component cannabinoids and terpenes for the treatment of breast cancer and related diseases. With nearly a dozen of these molecules having been found to deliver profound anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer behavior — in addition to the anti-nausea and appetite stimulation effects of THC — voters should be demanding that the nation’s leaders take seriously the potential therapeutic value of any drug, be it a natural herb, a high-powered extraction thereof, or a pharmaceutical treatment.

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Until cannabis is removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, where it is legally considered to have zero medical value and to be highly addictive (along with bath salts and heroin), adequate research into the medicinal efficacy of the plant for breast cancer won’t take place within the borders of the United States. This will prevent millions of breast cancer sufferers, one of whom could be a reader’s mother, spouse, daughter, or friend, from having the options they deserve and obtaining the relief they desire.

Gooey Rabinski

Gooey Rabinski is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana.

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