Health claims surrounding cannabis products frequently hit the news. But is there any evidence that they could reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back? CBD oil can’t treat or cure breast cancer, but it may ease side effects of treatment like pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting. Here’s what to know about using CBD oil for breast cancer. Onyx + Rose believes in the therapeutic benefits of pure, high-quality CBD products for everyone. But, as a company, we are particularly focused on how our products can meet the needs of active, modern women. We make our products with a sense of purity, gentleness, and honesty that we learned from the women in our […]
Can cannabis oil stop my breast cancer returning?
Health claims surrounding cannabis products frequently hit the news. But is there any evidence that they could reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back?
Breast Cancer Care’s Helpline often gets calls from people who are worried about their breast cancer returning after treatment, and who want to know if they can do anything to help.
Medical cannabis and cannabis oils have been in the news a lot recently. While these stories haven’t been about cancer, it’s clear some people believe cannabis could have anti-cancer properties.
However, despite ongoing research in this area, there’s no reliable evidence that any type of cannabis is an effective treatment for cancer.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabis contains ingredients called cannabinoids. Two of these are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC is the chemical responsible for most of the effects that cannabis has on the mind or behaviour. CBD doesn’t cause these effects.
Some people think that cannabinoids like CBD may have health benefits.
Can cannabinoids be used to treat cancer?
According to Cancer Research UK: ‘Many hundreds of scientific papers looking at cannabinoids and cancer have been published, but these studies simply haven’t found enough robust scientific evidence to prove that these can safely and effectively treat cancer.’
The problem is that almost all these studies have been carried out either on cancer cells in the laboratory or on animals. And what works in the laboratory or in animals doesn’t necessarily have the same effect in the human body.
The chemicals used in these studies are also very different to the cannabis oils and products available to buy.
While a quick Google search will uncover examples of people who claim to have treated their cancer using cannabis oil, it’s not possible to draw conclusions from individual stories like these.
In order to properly assess the effects of cannabinoids on cancer, large clinical trials are necessary.
Is cannabis oil illegal?
According to the NHS website: ‘Many cannabis-based products are available to buy online, but their quality and content is not known. They may be illegal and potentially dangerous.’
Some cannabis-based products, such as hemp oil, can be bought legally as supplements from health food stores. However, there’s no guarantee that these products have any health benefits.
As the NHS website states: ‘Health stores sell certain types of ‘pure CBD’. However, there’s no guarantee these products will be of good quality. And they tend to only contain very small amounts of CBD, so it’s not clear what effect they would have.’
A very small number of people may get medical cannabis on prescription, for example if they have a severe form of epilepsy, or vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy. However, this likely to be the case only if other treatments have been tried first.
Dealing with worries about recurrence
Most people worry about breast cancer coming back (recurrence). These worries are normal, and the fear and anxiety usually lessens with time.
Knowing how to continue to be breast and body aware after treatment and the symptoms you should report can help manage your feelings of uncertainty.
The treatment you received will have been given to reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back at its original site or elsewhere in the body.
Everyone copes with worries about recurrence in their own way, and there are no easy answers. But keeping quiet about them is probably not the best approach.
Breast Cancer Care’s Forum lets you share your worries with other people in a similar situation to you.
You can also read our tips on coping with anxiety and find suggestions in BECCA, our free app that helps you move forward after breast cancer treatment.
CBD Oil and Breast Cancer
If you’re being treated for breast cancer, you’ve probably had some side effects like pain, fatigue, nausea, discomfort, and anxiety. Maybe you’ve heard other people with the disease talk about using CBD products to ease these symptoms — or you’ve run across CBD at your local gas station or drug store. But what exactly is CBD? How does it work? And can it really help people who have breast cancer?
Defining the Terms
First, let’s break down the terms, which can be confusing.
- Cannabis is a type of flowering plant that has more than 500 chemicals. Hemp and marijuana are both forms of cannabis.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might be the best-known chemical, known as a cannabinoid, in the cannabis plant. Its psychoactive ingredients create intoxication, or a “high.”
- Cannabidiol (CBD) is another well-known chemical in cannabis. Even though it’s also technically considered psychoactive, CBD is not intoxicating because it affects the brain differently than THC. CBD that’s extracted from hemp is federally legal, but it’s not legal in every state. CBD can also be extracted from marijuana.
- Hemp is any cannabis plant that contains mostly CBD and has a maximum of 0.3% THC. The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow industrial hemp in the United States.
- Marijuana is any cannabis plant that has more than 0.3% THC, an amount that causes a high. It contains various amounts of CBD. Marijuana is not federally legal, and its legality varies from state to state.
How CBD Can Help
Your body has a natural endocannabinoid system, “a complex network of receptors on cells that regulates your daily body functions, such as inflammation, mood, and sleep,” says Marisa C. Weiss, MD, chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org and director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, PA.
CBD works by interacting with this system, which means it can help reduce side effects of breast cancer treatment like pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.
That said, it’s important to note that there is no evidence that CBD can treat or cure breast cancer itself.
“As a doctor, I make the distinction between complementary and alternative medicine,” says Andrea Mathias Schmucki, MD, a patient advocate for the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Hear My Voice advocacy program and a former family physician. She is herself being treated for metastatic breast cancer, or cancer that’s spread to other parts of her body. “I look at CBD as complementary, using it in addition to, rather than as an alternative to, traditional treatment.”
Before she had a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation for breast cancer in 2015, Mathias Schmucki says, she wouldn’t have put much stock in something like CBD (though she would have supported her patients’ choice to use it). But ibuprofen wasn’t relieving the itchy, scratchy, painful sensations she was having. She was so uncomfortable, “I was open to anything.” She knew that she didn’t need or want the mind-altering effects THC can create, so she decided to try CBD oil.
She bought some at her local pharmacy and took it by mouth every day for a month, noticing that it seemed to help on some days. But she wasn’t convinced that the changes were due to the CBD oil, so she didn’t get more when it ran out. Within 3 weeks, the horrible discomfort was back. She researched CBD in-depth and found a reputable company. Now, she’s a believer. “It has made a significant improvement in my daily quality of life,” she says.
How CBD Is Used
Weiss notes that there are all kinds of CBD products beyond oil, such as edibles, capsules, tinctures, creams and oils for skin, and sprays that you can use under your tongue.
Mathias Schmucki still takes CBD oil orally. She also uses a topical CBD oil for the skin on her radiation-treated side to help with the dryness and discomfort, plus a CBD extract in a coconut-oil-based suspension as a personal lubricant for intercourse. “A lot of women with breast cancer experience sexual side effects because one of the mainstays of treatment is anti-estrogen,” she explains.
Side Effects and Risks
According to Weiss, some people who use CBD have reported side effects including:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Less appetite
Mathias Schmucki notes that there aren’t a lot of studies on the potential risks of CBD oil, so it’s not clear exactly what they might be. However, “CBD is usually well-tolerated,” Weiss says.
Weiss offers these cautions:
- Don’t use cannabis products if you’ve had a heart attack within the past 6 months or if you have severe heart disease.
- Some medications can have a negative interaction with cannabis products, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven). Give your doctor and pharmacist a complete list of all the medications and supplements you’re taking so they can keep an eye out for interactions.
- Watch out for product ingredients that you might be allergic to, like coconut oil.
- It’s best to steer clear of cannabis products altogether if you’ve had serious side effects from using them before, like uncontrolled vomiting.
- Be aware that many CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC that can show up on a drug test. Check your employer’s medical cannabis policy before you use CBD.
Talking to Your Doctor
Weiss and Mathias Schmucki agree that it’s critical to talk to your doctor before you use CBD, especially if you’re in active treatment for breast cancer. For one thing, you need to make sure it’s a safe option for you.
If you’re taking certain medications like blood thinners and thyroid and seizure medications, you’ll need periodic blood tests to make sure your levels are where they should be. If you’re on a medication like this and you’re going to use CBD products, Mathias Schmucki says, your doctor will need to monitor you to make sure your levels stay on track. “Everybody’s different, so you won’t really know how CBD will affect your body’s metabolism of other medications,” she says.
Your doctor may not be enthusiastic about you using CBD, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re resistant to the idea. “Remember that your doctor wants to help manage your symptoms and pain, so being open and honest about what you need is the best way to communicate,” Weiss advises.
If you’re having breast cancer treatment side effects or symptoms that aren’t being controlled, or if you think your doctor isn’t listening to your needs or doesn’t have the experience to give you advice on CBD products, get a second opinion, Weiss suggests. She recommends talking to an oncologist who is knowledgeable about cannabis products if your doctor can’t help.
“I tell my doctors that I’m not holding them responsible for my decision to use CBD, but I want them to know this is a choice I’m making,” Mathias Schmucki says. “I’m giving them information they need to provide the best care that they can.”
How to Buy CBD
What should you look for if you decide to give CBD products a try?
- Medical-grade CBD products. “Just because CBD products made from hemp are now widely available, you shouldn’t assume they’re safe, effective, or even legal where you live, since some state laws still consider hemp CBD illegal,” Weiss says. She recommends looking for medical-grade CBD products because they’re “probably a safer option.”
- Certificate of analysis. Weiss recommends asking for a certificate of analysis (COA) from the company or dispensary you use. A COA comes from a third-party laboratory and tells you the quantity of cannabinoids in the product so that you know exactly what you’re getting. Some COAs also show the levels of potential toxins like pesticides, arsenic, and heavy metals.
For Mathias Schmucki, finding a company that provided a COA with all this information was a must. She says there are several online companies that send it with every product. “The companies with the best reputations will often have very robust websites with educational resources,” she says, so look for these.
Mathias Schmucki says other options, like how the CBD is extracted or what the best delivery method is, are a matter of personal choice.
Keep this in mind, too: “Everyone reacts differently to cannabis products, so don’t feel discouraged if your symptoms aren’t reduced with the first product you try,” Weiss says. “You may need to test different products to find what’s best for you, including the delivery method and dosage.” She suggests starting low and slow, making changes as you go.
“There’s a lot of information out there, but I think you really have to be careful about where you get that information,” Mathias Schmucki says. She advises looking to see if your local medical center has an integrative oncology department that includes nontraditional therapy like CBD and can give you guidance. Other good resources include pharmacists trained in cannabis, experts at medical cannabis dispensaries, and pain management doctors, Weiss says.
Mathias Schmucki has also found that talking to other people who currently have or previously had breast cancer is invaluable. A private Facebook group called Fighting Breast Cancer with Cannabis has been helpful in her own journey.
The Future of CBD
“Research on medical cannabis products, including CBD oil, has been limited because federal laws in the United States have made it difficult to study,” Weiss says. But now that hemp production is legal, it can be studied, Mathias Schmucki notes. “Lifting federal regulations off of the growing and scientific study of cannabis plants will help over time in answering some of these questions about areas like safety, dosing, and contraindications,” she says.
“In the meantime, more research is being done to provide better answers,” Weiss says. For example, she’s the principal investigator on a research team at Lankenau Medical Center that’s testing CBD in cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). This is the first and only FDA-approved CBD study for patients with CIPN, “a common and difficult side effect of the most commonly used chemotherapies, which can damage the nerves and lead to pain, discomfort, or numbness, most often in the hands and feet,” she explains.
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Side Effects from Breast Cancer Treatment.”
Marisa C. Weiss, MD, chief medical officer and founder, Breastcancer.org; director of breast radiation oncology, Lankenau Medical Center, Wynnewood, PA.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know.”
PBS NewsHour: “Is CBD legal? Here’s what you need to know, according to science.”
Project CBD: “Is CBD Really Non-Psychoactive?”
U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Hemp and Farm Programs.”
Breastcancer.org: “Medical Cannabis.”
Andrea Mathias Schmucki, MD, patient advocate, Living Beyond Breast Cancer Hear My Voice advocacy program.
Citizen Truth: “What is a CBD Certificate of Authenticity (COA) (And How to Read It).”
CBD and Breast Cancer
Onyx + Rose believes in the therapeutic benefits of pure, high-quality CBD products for everyone. But, as a company, we are particularly focused on how our products can meet the needs of active, modern women. We make our products with a sense of purity, gentleness, and honesty that we learned from the women in our lives, and we’re particularly interested in issues of women’s wellness.
IT’S PINK SEASON
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And all those pink ribbons you see are bringing attention to a crucial issue. As women’s health issues go, breast cancer immediately comes to mind for many. In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. (along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.) In fact, it’s the most common cancer among American women. One in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. While modern medicine has made many advances when it comes to treating and preventing breast cancer, the potential for CBD oil to supplement traditional treatments is only just being explored.
SCIENCE SAYS THIS IS WORTH A TRY
There’s still a lot of research that needs to happen when it comes to CBD. But as a society, we’ve made tremendous progress in the last few years in regards to our attitude towards hemp. We’ve rounded up recent and noteworthy research regarding CBD and breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, research indicates that CBD may slow the growth or reduce the risk of recurrence of certain kinds of cancers, including breast cancer. It may enhance the potency of certain medications; and reduce chemotherapy side effects, including vomiting, nausea, and anxiety. Keep in mind, all these studies are limited, and experts agree that further research is needed to understand how CBD affects humans undergoing chemotherapy.
While clinical research into its efficacy is still getting off the ground, scientists and people who CBD has worked for agree that the compound merits further investigation. A 2017 World Health Organization report stated CBD may have antitumor effects, and that “CBD may have therapeutic benefits,” for a list of ailments, including cancer. The report went on to note “antiproliferative and anti-invasive actions in a large range of cancer types; induction of autophagy-mediated cancer cell death; chemopreventive effects.” If you don’t have your medical degree, what it means is that CBD may have a potentially important role to play in cancer therapy for some.
WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE SCIENCE, WHAT ELSE DO WE KNOW?
We learn more every day about the benefits of CBD oil. Let’s dive into the findings so far that focus on CBD and breast cancer.
CBD may play a role in inhibiting tumor growth. In a 2006 study, CBD inhibited breast cancer tumor growth in rats. “Both cannabidiol and the cannabidiol-rich extract inhibited the growth of xenograft tumors.” (AKA tumors grown in lab rats).
CBD may have an effect that mimics chemotherapy. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics reported in 2011, “an intricate interplay between apoptosis and autophagy in CBD-treated breast cancer cells and highlighted the value of continued investigation into the potential use of CBD as an antineoplastic agent.” Put simply, it looks like CBD may be making a positive impact, so let’s keep studying it to make sure.
CBD may potentially control aggressive breast cancer cells according to Breast Cancer Research and Treatment in a study published in August 2011. The study found that sought after “therapeutic interventions for aggressive and metastatic breast cancers,” since there are limited options available, and they declared CBD an “effective, targeted, and nontoxic” therapy. A 2017 study in the Journal of Natural Medicines found CBD to have similar effects in cases of “highly aggressive breast cancer,” but suggested further research.
Of all the available breast cancer treatments, CBD may be the first nontoxic option. A study from Molecular Cancer Therapeutics (2007) reported that “CBD represents the first nontoxic exogenous agent that can significantly decrease Id-1 expression in metastatic breast cancer cells leading to the down-regulation of tumor aggressiveness.”
CBDA is a precursor to CBD, and has been shown to inhibit tumors. According to a Japanese study from 2014: “CBDA is an inhibitor of highly aggressive human breast cancer cell migration.”
You already know: Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation come along with all kinds of side effects: nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, etc. Research suggests cannabinoids may ease the neuropathic pain, nausea, and poor appetite cancer (and cancer treatment) can bring on, not to mention, CBD’s noted anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE:
That’s an awful lot of positive findings, and hopefully, human clinical trials will be conducted in the U.S. soon. Since CBD is nontoxic and rarely has side effects, it may be worth a try in the meantime. As with any treatment regimen, you should, of course, discuss this with your physician. It’s important to remember that anything you ingest (dietary supplements and herbal remedies included) could potentially interfere with chemotherapy treatment, so be especially mindful if you’re undergoing treatment. When in doubt, discuss your CBD options with your oncologist and medical team to determine the best course of action.
OUR 2019 INITIATIVE: WE WALK THE WALK (AND BACK UP THOSE WHO WALK WITH US.
This year, a group of us at Onyx + Rose asked ourselves, “What can we do?” We believe in this cause passionately and wanted to show our support in a way that went beyond buying a quick shoutout on social media.
So, we teamed up with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and donated over 750 CBD Spa Gift Sets for their annual walk event.
Our broad spectrum CBD beauty products, including Botanic Bombs, are an excellent way to soothe sore muscles, reduce pain and inflammation, and relieve stress, whether you have breast cancer yourself or are a tireless supporter who deserves a little break. It’s just our way of sharing the healing power of hemp with a group of strong women who we felt would benefit the most from incorporating our spa kit into their wellness ritual.
YOU’VE GOT THIS. AND WE’VE GOT YOU.
Research. Studies. Doctors. Technology. That is all a part of the breast cancer journey. But true healing comes from a holistic approach that treats the body and mind as one. A treatment regimen that includes CBD oil is a holistic approach to treating the whole person. Onyx + Rose believes that thoughtfully including broad and full spectrum CBD products into a wellness routine may help those dealing with breast cancer achieve a more comfortable outcome and a greater sense of well-being on their way back to wellness.
While we wait for the hard science to come in, early reports and the testimonials of many seem to indicate that CBD may play an active role in both promoting the efficacy of some breast cancer treatments or at least reducing the side effects. Without a doubt, our long relationship with customers has affirmed its powerful effects in stress relief, the reduction of inflammation, and the support of overall health and well-being.
If you or a loved one is dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, know that Onyx + Rose is there for you with our sincere support, and hopefully, any measure of comfort or relief that CBD products can offer.