Cannabis and Breast Cancer: How can cannabinoids help patients?

Cannabis and Breast Cancer: How can cannabinoids help patients?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Roughly 1 in 8 women will develop an invasive form of breast cancer in their lifetime. Over 330,000 new cases of breast cancer will likely be diagnosed in the United States this year alone.

More than 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year, ranking it alongside lung cancer as the two deadliest types of cancer. (Men are at risk, too: over 2,500 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.) These stats are horrible, but there’s hope. These numbers have been declining since the late 1980’s, thanks to earlier detection, increased awareness, and advances in treatment methods,.

Now there’s another reason for hope: cannabis reform.

As cannabis activists, we need to be careful not to overstate the medicinal benefits. Today, there are many headlines, and countless anecdotal stories, touting marijuana as a “cure” for cancer.

Cancer takes many different forms, and affects people in different ways.

Still, we refuse to blindly accept the narrative of the medical establishment, which still tends to demonize cannabis, or at least dissuade their patients from trying it for medical benefits.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, for example, is heavily associated with Breast Cancer Awareness. (They’re behind the pink gear that pops up every October.) But their website says:

“The cannabinoid, dronabinol, which is found in marijuana, is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately as a prescription medication. Dronabinol (Marinol) is an FDA-approved prescription product.

Marijuana is POSSIBLY SAFE when used as a standardized mouth spray (Sativex).

Marijuana is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when smoked or taken by mouth as a plant or plant extract. It is classified as an illegal substance on the federal government level.”

So, to recap, the two Big Pharma synthetic cannabis alternatives are ok, but everything else is “Possibly Unsafe.”

Between 1990 and 2014, over 60 peer-reviewed studies were conducted on the efficacy of medical marijuana versus ailments ranging from Parkinson’s disease, to various forms of cancer, and more. In the vast majority (68.3%) of these studies, it was determined that marijuana indeed had medicinal benefits, 23.3% were inconclusive and just 8.3% resulted in negative feedback.

At, their stance towards weed is a bit more balanced. Though they clearly state that, in their opinion, “It’s extremely important to know that marijuana is not a treatment for breast cancer,” they follow that up with, “People use marijuana to ease the side effects of treatment and pain caused by the cancer.”

Symptoms alleviated by cannabis include nausea, vomiting, pain, hot flashes, loss of appetite, anxiety, and insomnia. (Ironically, the Susan G. Komen site blamed cannabis use for many of these exact symptoms.)

This conflicting information from the two websites leads to confusion for patients.

So what’s the deal?

Marijuana comes in many forms these days, from the traditional flowers and buds that you burn and smoke, to an incredibly wide array of edible options, to concentrated vaping options, sublingual sprays, transdermal patches, as a topical ointments & salve, cannabis suppositories, and more.

Cannabis oil, with its concentrated potency, is commonly viewed as the most effective cannabis product for treating disease. One drop can contain 100mg or more of active THC, CBD, or both. When heated to a specific temperature, also known as decarboxylation, the oil can be vaped, eaten, or applied topically or via a suppository.

In 2018, recreational marijuana is legal in nine states, and medical marijuana is legal in 30 states. But many of those medical marijuana states have such overbearing restrictions that a breast cancer patient would not even be eligible under their programs, or the oil available is not ideal for the patient’s situation.

The problem with cannabis oil is that it often comes from suspect sources as its production and sale is still highly illegal in most of the country. If a patient doesn’t know the exact ratio of cannabinoids and even terpenes in their oil, it is nearly impossible to properly dose.

Patients hoping to use CBD often struggle with this dosing problem.

There are studies that show cannabis-derived CBD can inhibit Id-1, a gene that “triggers the metastatic process responsible for spreading cells from the original breast tumor to other parts of the body such as the brain and lungs”. The experiments in this particular study were performed on cultured cells in a lab environment, so it still needs animal model research to determine the usefulness of CBD when treating breast cancer.

This study is backed by hundreds, if not thousands, of purely anecdotal stories about breast cancer patients self-treating with homemade or store-bought CBD salves, tinctures, oils, and suppositories, and halting the spread of their disease. But there are so many snake-oil CBD products on the market these days that it is overwhelming for the average consumer to keep up.

Preclinical trials are showing very promising results when it comes to fighting breast cancer with cannabis. And as more prohibition laws are overturned, and mainstream attitudes continue to evolve, increasing numbers of doctors are willing to speak with cancer patients about all their options.

This article was originally posted at