However, the U.S. Congress passed a federal law called the 2018 Farm Bill. This law made it legal for companies to produce and sell CBD products made from hemp. Now, many more companies are selling CBD products. You’ve probably seen them everywhere from grocery stores and pharmacies to gas stations and online ads.
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.
Is medical cannabis legal?
“I’ve mainly seen it used in conjunction with prescription drugs to control pain and other side effects in patients living with metastatic disease,” she said. “It’s rare that a person living with metastatic breast cancer would have only one side effect to manage. So, by adding in medical marijuana, it often allows me to cut back on the number of drugs I prescribe. With a high-quality source for medical marijuana and knowing how it affects an individual, using medical marijuana can put more control back in the hands of my patient.”
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.
Side effects and safety of medical cannabis
THC and CBD are present in different levels in different strains of marijuana. Most medical cannabis products are made by extracting these cannabinoids from the cannabis plant and putting different amounts of them into the products. The label on the product usually shows the ratio of THC to CBD. Hemp products mostly contain CBD, but can have trace levels of THC and other cannabinoids which are unlikely to be listed on the label.
What about CBD products?
The most surprising thing I learned while researching these blogs: our bodies have cannabidiol receptors that are similar to the estrogen receptors that are the targets of the hormonal therapies we use to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
In 2020, a study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research (yes, this journal exists!) showed that people are using medical cannabis for a wide range of health issues, highlighting the need for more research on its clinical benefits. Some of the most common uses include improving mental health and sleep, and reducing pain, neurological problems, and cancer-related side effects.
This is the first of a three-part blog series on cannabis. It will provide a general overview about why cannabis might be considered useful to treat or ameliorate the collateral damage of breast cancer and its treatments. The next two will explain how cannabis interacts with the immune system through the endocannabinoid system, and how this may affect cancer cells.
First, we have to get our definitions straight. The cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa) produces at least 545 chemical compounds of different biogenetic classes. Many of these phytochemicals have been shown to have medicinal and physiological activity. The most prominent and most studied metabolites are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the metabolite that causes the high you get from smoking marijuana. CBD is more likely to provide relief from short-term side effects or the long-term collateral damage of cancer treatments. Some products contain THC and CBD, while some contain only THC or CBD. The proportion of THC to CBD in a product that contains both will determine the effect of these cannabinoids. There are also non-cannabinoid metabolites that have therapeutic potential.
So, to begin: Is cannabis safe? One review of 25 English-language pooled studies found that marijuana use was indeed basically safe, though some research suggests it may increase the risk of testicular cancer.
A 2020 study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals assessed the short-term outcomes of medical cannabis treatment prescribed by oncologists to treat cancer-related side effects. The study found THC was better for sleep than CBD. However, CBD oils appeared to help more with the collateral damage of cancer treatments. The American Pain Society guidelines on cannabis use for pain recommend cannabis oils that have low levels of THC and high levels of CBD.
As a child of the 1960s, when I settled down to write a blog about cannabis and breast cancer, I thought, “This will be easy.” That was weeks ago! It turns out that there is now a lot of research to consider on the benefits and risks of cannabis use, and I have a lot of catching up to do.