If you decide that you’re interested in trying medical cannabis to treat your breast cancer symptoms or treatment side effects, here are some things to consider before you do:
It’s extremely important to know that cannabis is not a cure or treatment for breast cancer, despite many claims. It’s dangerous to use cannabis instead of proven cancer therapies. It’s also important to talk to your doctor before using cannabis products to make sure it won’t interact or interfere with any of your medicines or treatments.
Because marijuana has been legal for both medical and recreational use in Colorado for many years, Dr. Borges has cared for a number of breast cancer patients who use or have used medical cannabis to ease treatment side effects.
Patient surveys have provided important insights about how people use medical cannabis. About 42% of people diagnosed with breast cancer who completed our survey said they used medical cannabis products to manage breast cancer symptoms or treatment side effects. The people who used medical cannabis ranged in age, cancer stage, and treatment phase, and most (75%) found it to be “very” or “extremely” helpful.
Side effects and safety of medical cannabis
Different forms of cannabis contain different amounts or combinations of cannabinoids. Marijuana contains enough THC to cause a high (more than 0.3%) and varying amounts of CBD. Hemp contains mostly CBD and only trace amounts of THC, which does not cause a high.
Inhaling cannabis smoke or vapor takes effect within minutes and fades more rapidly. Inhaling can give you more control over the dose you take, when the effects will start, and how long they will last. But many oncologists prefer that their patients not smoke or vaporize cannabis products, especially during active cancer treatment that can affect the lungs or immune system. That’s one reason why it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start using cannabis.
Virginia F. Borges, M.D., MMSc., professor of medicine and director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center
What are cannabinoids?
Like all cannabis products, hemp CBD products are not regulated the same way medicines are. So it’s hard to know if they are made safely, contain contaminants, or are labeled accurately. It’s also illegal for companies to market any cannabis product as a cure, treatment, or dietary supplement. The FDA has warned many companies that have marketed CBD products in this way.
Information on cannabis side effects is limited because research on medical cannabis in people with cancer is limited. Side effects are also likely to vary depending on the dose you take and the amounts and combinations of THC and CBD in each product.
It seems nearly everywhere you look these days someone is selling, pitching or endorsing CBD, the acronym for cannabidiol, one of the key ingredients in cannabis. Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Hanks and Olivia Wilde are just a few celebrities to tout CBD as an elixir for conditions such as endometriosis, fibromyalgia, PTSD, anxiety, muscle tension and insomnia.
Cancer and CBD
While some anecdotal evidence has been publicly shared about CBD’s benefits for cancer patients, the scientific research is lacking. The situation causes a conundrum for doctors who treat cancer patients, says Maurie Markman, MD, President of Medicine & Science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America ® (CTCA).
Dr. Markman says he doesn’t discount the many doctors and patients who swear by the plant’s medicinal benefits, but he strongly recommends that any cancer patient contemplating using a CBD product, or medical marijuana, have a conversation with his or her oncologist before doing so.