Cannabis and Breast Cancer

Overview of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common form of malignant cancer in women. It accounts for 29% of all female cancers and less than 1% of all male cancers. Breast cancer is also responsible for 15% of cancer deaths in women, making it the number two cause of cancer-related death. In 2015, an estimated 40,290 women and 440 men lost their lives to breast cancer. As of 2014, there were more than 2.8 million women breast cancer survivors in the United States. Several risk factors can increase the chances of breast cancer occurring, which include but is not limited to genetics, radiation exposure, alcohol, diets high in dairy and animal fat, and obesity.  (Jardines, MD et al., 2015). It is important to note that risk factors are correlational factors and not necessarily causal.


Overview of Cannabis and Breast Cancer:

Cannabis has been used for millennia to treat a wide variety of ailments not only associated with breast cancer but also the symptoms that arise from the conventional treatment of it. It is crucial for patients and caregivers to understand how cannabis affects breast cancer, what cannabinoids/terpenes are best suited for each symptom, and what methods of administration can be utilized for optimum relief. Cannabis, like any tool, is most effective when applied appropriately. The information presented below is intended to provide clarity when deciding how to use cannabis in relation to breast cancer.


How Cannabis Affects Breast Cancer:

New research out of Ohio State University has found a novel way in which cannabinoids may inhibit pathways associated with breast cancer. The researchers were able to show that cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptor activation suppressed breast cancer by inhibiting epidermal growth factor (EGF) as well as insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and their respective receptors signaling. These pathways are implicated in the tumor growth in breast tissue. The Ohio State University team built on prior research that demonstrated significant reductions in tumor growth in breast cancer mouse models using a synthetic cannabinoid JWH-015, which has a strong affinity for the CB2 receptor (Elbaz, Ahirwar, Ravi, Nasser & Ganju, 2016).  Potential compounds of interest that activate the CB2 receptor include the cannabinoids THC and CBC as well as the terpene Beta-Caryophyllene (Russo & Marcu, 2017). This mechanism is one of many by which cannabis may affect breast cancer. It is also important to note that these studies have not been replicated in humans.


How Cannabis Relieves Symptoms Associated with Breast Cancer:

The medical marijuana movement truly gained traction in the treating of cancer-related symptoms. The most common uses of cannabis in breast cancer symptom relief, according to the American Cancer society are ("Marijuana and Cancer", 2018):

  1. Treating nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. 
  2. Treating neuropathic pain caused by damaged nerves.
  3. Help improve food intake.

Know Your Dose

Having worked with hundreds of patients, many of whom were cancer patients, I can attest to the relief provided by cannabis. I have also had patients report that the uplifting mood cannabis can provide significantly helped them overcome the mental burden of the illness which is often overlooked by conventional healthcare practitioners. In closing I would like to leave you with a few helpful suggestions when using cannabis in relation to breast cancer:

  1. 2 - 4  hrs before chemotherapy consume an edible rich in Beta-Caryophyllene to help activate the CB2 receptor. I recommend the strain Blue Cheese due to its ability to stimulate appetite, provide pain relief, and uplift mood.
  2. Reserve inhalation for breakthrough treatment, I recommend a balanced 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD to provide optimal relief.
  3. Know your dose! For yourself or for those you care for, it is critical to go low and slow when first using cannabis. I recommend edible doses of 2.5 mg or less. For inhalation, one micro puff to start for the first few times to build confidence with the medicine.  

Derek Espinoza, Baked Bros Director of Education


References

  • Elbaz, M., Ahirwar, D., Ravi, J., Nasser, M., & Ganju, R. (2016). Novel role of cannabinoid receptor 2 in inhibiting EGF/EGFR and IGF-I/IGF-IR pathways in breast cancer. Oncotarget, 8(18). doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.9408
  • Russo, E., & Marcu, J. (2017). Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads. Cannabinoid Pharmacology, 67-134. doi: 10.1016/bs.apha.2017.03.00
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