How cannabis can ease breast cancer treatment
Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. But thanks to widespread awareness about breast cancer, it is also considered highly treatable.
Of course, successful treatment depends on a variety of things – from the cancer type to how far it has progressed. But modern medicine has put a focus on early detection, in addition to encouraging advancements in both treatment and finding a cure.
While every treatment plan is different, they all have one thing in common – they can take a serious toll on a woman, both physically and emotionally. Which is why cannabis, as a means to ease the hardships of treatment, is a steadfast solution for a growing number of breast cancer patients.
“Since breast cancer is now considered such a treatable cancer, I mainly help patients manage their pain and other symptoms associated with chemo and radiation therapy,” says Dr. Patricia Frye, a cannabis medicine specialist in Takoma Park, MD and Chief Medical Officer of HelloMD.com, a cannabis health and wellness platform.
“My patients are typically experiencing nausea, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, pain, and neuropathic symptoms like numbness and tingling,” she says. “I also see patients with severe pain from tumors or metastatic lesions.”
Dosing for breast cancer patients can be a tricky business. Too little, and the patient may not reap its benefits. Too much, and cannabis could actually increase pain or nausea. So Dr. Frye always starts her patients with very small doses, gradually increasing until she finds the sweet spot. She typically recommends a combination of THC and CBD, to limit possible adverse effects from the THC.
“THC can be gradually increased to reduce pain, and THC alone can be given at bedtime for sleep. But otherwise, finding the right THC/CBD balance is best for treating pain, nausea, anxiety and depression without exacerbating symptoms.”
When it comes to cannabis varieties, there are many things that breast cancer patients should keep in mind. For example, varieties that are often helpful in reducing pain are rich in b-caryophyllene and limonene, and cannabis for stress and sleep should have relaxing terpenes like myrcene and linalool. While these terms may sound Greek to many cannabis consumers, having an integrative or cannabis medicine doctor shed light on types can make all the difference in minimizing side effects.
It’s also important to note, that while physical ails may seem the most extreme, emotional hardships could arguable be more important to manage. Worry for a patient’s loved ones, worry about a diagnosis or uncertainty about the future can take a serious mental toll. And getting well physically depends a lot on being well emotionally.
“THC can relieve anxiety or stress, but the small amount of evidence we have, suggests that this occurs at low doses. So again, I find it’s important to start small, and find the right THC/CBD ratio. The significance of treating a breast cancer patient’s anxiety is that it can help shift their mindset. If you can find relief from constant worry, you can focus on what’s important: helping your body heal.”
While using cannabis during breast cancer treatment is nothing new, it’s certainly moving to the forefront in terms of awareness. Legalization is spreading from coast to coast, making cannabis more accessible, and opening it up to much needed research. Because aside from being an option for symptom management, there is much to be learned about cannabis as a cancer treatment itself.
“It is terribly frustrating to know that cannabis could possibly impact the patient’s survival, but because we don’t have the appropriate human clinical trials, we don’t know for certain if what the patients are taking will help them in any concrete way.”
Still, Dr. Frye, and a huge community of cancer survivors and supporters, remain hopeful. At this very moment, there are over 3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. They faced a difficult diagnosis and endured the hardships of treatment. And many of them name cannabis as playing a big role in their outcome.
*Always discuss cannabis use with your doctor. There may be drug interactions that can interfere with chemo, and dosing and cannabis types should always come at a professional’s recommendation.