Breast cancer kills. Even mentioning the term can be a little creepy. However, thanks to slow but steady scientific progress, it’s not the killer it once was. We’re starting to understand that genetics plays a role in a minority of cases. We’ve found clear links to obesity, high-fat diets, and cigarette smoking. Lack of exercise probably plays a role, too. Regular screening seems like a good idea, but, like many ideas in science, it has some controversy. Treatments are markedly better than they once were, but they can be tough.
The cannabis plant could help. We all know that THC improves appetite and nausea for anyone enduring chemotherapy. This relief is quite the feat. I don’t want to upset anyone’s stomach with a description, but nausea is no treat. We’re not talking about the average queasiness here. Chemotherapy often creates the kind of nausea that prevents any kind of concentrated effort, any movement, and just about any pleasant thought. Never mind eating enough to stay strong and healthy during a challenging time. Unfortunately, nausea drugs can be pricey. Most require that a patient swallow them — hardly a delightful thought under the circumstances. The lucky few who can get a pill down still have to wait for digestion before they feel better. Inhaled cannabis can do all that in seconds for a fraction of the cost. Which would you choose for yourself or your loved ones?
But new evidence suggests that cannabis has the potential to combat breast cancer itself, not just battle the side effects of chemotherapy. A few years ago, we saw that THC, one of the 60+ chemicals unique to the cannabis plant, keeps human breast cancer cells from spreading. Last year, researchers at Harvard showed that CBD, another treasure from the plant, essentially makes breast cancer cells kill themselves. Now researchers in Japan have focused on CBDA, CBD’s precursor. They showed that it also keeps breast cancer cells from spreading.
What does this mean for use of the plant in treating breast cancer patients or preventing breast cancer in the first place? Alas, we have no idea. That, in some ways, is the saddest part. Wouldn’t it be great to know if the whole plant, with all these helpful substances combined into one source, could ward off breast cancer in an actual human being? It’s going to be hard to find out given our current laws. Prohibition has made research with the whole plant an unparalleled hassle. Most researchers are stuck trying to use one cannabinoid at a time. They often get synthesized chemicals from labs rather than extracts from the plant. They study cell lines in petri dishes instead of breast cancer in real people.
Are those who use cannabis regularly less likely to get breast cancer? It’d be great to know. Currently though, there’s little research funding for any study that might prove that cannabis is not evil. In addition, under prohibition, those who use cannabis are often frightened to tell doctors or researchers that they do. Any study of this type would need money to be done right. And there’s just not much money out there for this kind of work. A cure for breast cancer might rest in a simple green plant that’s been around for millennia. Why don’t we try to find it?
It looks like the U.S. would rather let people die than admit we made a mistake prohibiting marijuana.
Dr. Mitch Earleywine is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where he teaches drugs and human behavior, substance abuse treatment and clinical research methods. He is the author of more than 100 publications on drug use and abuse, including “Understanding Marijuana” and “The Parents’ Guide to Marijuana.” He is the only person to publish with both Oxford University and High Times.
Medical Marijuana Activist and Cancer Patient Angel Raich Thrown Out of Hospital for Vaporizing Marijuana
Well, it doesn’t get much more despicable than this. Yesterday, a registered medical marijuana patient with terminal cancer was forced to leave UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco because she was using a vaporizer to ingest her medicine.
A spokesperson for the hospital claimed that use of the vaporizer violated their non-smoking policy. First of all, vaporizing is NOT smoking!
Then, the hospital claimed that even marijuana in vapor form can damage the lungs of other patients. I challenge the hospital to deliver evidence of this, especially considering that a recent study shows marijuana, even smoked marijuana, has little effect on long-term pulmonary function. To the best of my knowledge, there is no data showing any second-hand effects from vaporized marijuana.
This patient happened to be none other than Angel Raich, a long-time medical marijuana activist who battled the federal government in the U.S. Supreme Court for the right to use marijuana to treat the symptoms of her incurable brain tumor.
Marijuana is an accepted medicine in the state of California. For a state university hospital to threaten a terminally ill patient with arrest and federal prosecution, instead of making accommodations so that the patient could use her medicine, is inexcusable.
Just to give you another example of people being denied treatment simply because they use marijuana to treat their conditions, here is a video from our friends at Reason about a man who was taken off a kidney transplant list because he used a legal medicine that his doctor recommended.
What happened to the Hippocratic Oath?
One of the most oft-discussed benefits of marijuana is its use in the treatment of cancer and cancer symptoms or side effects. While most of the reports are anecdotal, more and more research is coming out showing that Cannabis sativa may be the most exciting compound in cancer medicine today. Certainly more study is needed, but the results so far are very promising.
This week, for example, NORML’s Paul Armentano wrote about a study that will be released shortly that showed marijuana inhalation could play a role in tumor regression in brain cancer patients. Armentano writes:
Investigators at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver documented the mitigation of residual tumors in two adolescent subjects who regularly inhaled cannabis. Authors determined that both subjects experienced a “clear regression” of their residual brain tumors over a three-year-period.
“Neither patient received any conventional adjuvant treatment” during this time period, investigators wrote. “The tumors regressed over the same period of time that cannabis was consumed via inhalation, raising the possibility that cannabis played a role in tumor regression.”
Researchers concluded, “Further research may be appropriate to elucidate the increasingly recognized effect of cannabis/cannabinoids on gliomas (brain cancers).”
Further research is indeed necessary if we want to find the true medical potential of this plant. Unfortunately, such study is highly discouraged by government organizations, unless the focus of that study is on the potential harms of marijuana. The scientific community, however, is very eager to explore the possibilities of cannabinoid medicine.
Interestingly, the National Cancer Institute recently added a section to their website called “Cannabis and Cannabinoids” to provide patients and researchers with information on marijuana and cancer treatment options. I’ll take that as a good sign.
(Special thanks to Paul Armentano and Sanho Tree)