The cannabis plant is rich in chemical compounds that provide numerous health benefits. These include reducing pain, improving sleep, and increasing appetite. In fact, medical cannabis is used by more than half of women with breast cancer. But how can medical marijuana help patients with breast cancer?
The active component in cannabis plants that can be beneficial in dealing with cancer is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Other compounds called cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN) may also offer a range of health benefits.
According to the National Cancer Institute, three types of cannabis should be discussed with your healthcare provider before prescribing any of them:
- Cannabis Sativa – A type of cannabis that contains the highest concentration of CBD (cannabidiol) and other compounds that target inflammation, which can help treat the side effects of cancer.
- Cannabis Indica – Indica strains have a higher percentage of THC than other strains. They are commonly used to alleviate anxiety.
- Cannabis Ruderalis – Ruderalis strains are generally more potent than Indica and Sativa strains.
How Medical Marijuana Can Help Breast Cancer Patients
Depression and Anxiety
If a patient receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, it will undoubtedly be upsetting. Many people suffer from some degree of anxiety and/or depression at one time or another. Cannabidiol (CBD) is often used to treat anxiety, while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is often used to treat depression. A majority of people also experience some combination of both anxiety and depression. These patients can benefit from a strain that produces these two cannabinoids.
Many people experience insomnia due to the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that medical cannabis before bedtime significantly reduced insomnia and helped people fall asleep more easily. This is probably because THC binds to receptors in the brain that regulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which are associated with sleep.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. Marijuana is an effective antiemetic (a drug used to treat nausea and vomiting) in cancer patients. Antiemetics (also known as anti-nauseants or antipyretics) work by altering the function of nerve cells in the brain, thus blocking the perception of the sensation of nausea.
When combined with opioids, antiemetics allows patients to get through long periods of chemotherapy with minimal interruption of the treatment by their distress. These drugs work by affecting different receptors in the brain than opioids do, which means they tend to produce less sedation.
Marijuana has been proven to increase the appetite of some cancer patients, meaning that they can eat more, improving their quality of life and possibly increasing survival rates.
Chronic and Acute Pain
For those who struggle with acute pain and nausea following chemotherapy treatments, medical marijuana has proven effective. Studies have shown that cannabis dramatically impacts the brain compared to opioids and NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs).
In addition, cannabis has been shown to inhibit the growth of new nerve fibers in the brain, thus reducing pain signals. This is significant because it helps the patient to move more easily, perform activities of daily living, and live a more normal life.
Medical marijuana may help with some issues you’ll face after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Those issues include nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, anxiety, stress from undergoing breast surgery and radiation, and pain and cramps caused by the disease and treatments. Cancer is one of the qualified conditions for a medical marijuana card.
If you’re interested in learning how medical marijuana helps patients with breast cancer to manage pain and other side effects from cancer or its treatment, talk to your Pause Pain & Wellness healthcare provider about your options.