With many states beginning to legalize medical marijuana, or cannabis, you may be curious about whether or not it could help with some of the more difficult side effects of breast cancer and breast cancer treatment. Generally, it is used to help mitigate pain, nausea, and anxiety, among other symptoms, and many who use it swear by its efficacy. However, federally, cannabis use for any reason is still considered illegal, and many worry about other potential side effects from longterm marijuana use.
Here, we’ve collected a series of articles and scientific reviews examining how and if medical marijuana use can affect your breast cancer journey. As with most therapies, there are both pros and cons to its use. Check out the resources below to learn more.
Cannabis use is fairly common in those being treated for breast cancer; it is reported that in 2021, up to 48% of those with a breast cancer diagnosis had tried it between then and 5 years prior. It is commonly used to help with pain, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, or stress, and others find that cannabidiol, an isolated component from marijuana, can also help with these symptoms. There is very preliminary research that marijuana use could potentially even slow the rate of tumor growth, however there is also preliminary research that the active component of cannabis may undermine some chemotherapy agents by making them less effective, so at this stage it is unclear wheter it truly affects breast cancer treatment in any meaningful way. Read more
This scientific study published in Cancer examined medical marijuana use in breast cancer patients at all stages of treatment and beyond. Through online surveys, they found that 42% of their study population used cannabis for symptom relief, but only 39% of those people had discussed using cannabis with their medical team beforehand. The researchers concluded that while there were benefits in terms of symptom management, many of those trying cannabis were unaware of potential consequences of the drug, and the quality and dosage of marijuana across participants varied significantly, indicating that there should be more of an effort by medical professionals and patients to be candid about medical marijuana use in cancer treatment. Read More
While this article is generalized to any type of cancer, it contains an overview of the legal status of marijuana in the country (federally illegal, but state regulations vary), the active components in it that may act as a therapy (THC and CBD), and the common side effects and conditions it is used to treat (pain, neuropathy, nausea/vomiting, and appetite/weight loss). However, it also emphasizes the importance of consulting with a medical professional, as each person’s treatment is unique, and cannabis use may have other undesired side effects. Read more
Denise Mann integrates the statistics with personal and professional testimony on whether or not using cannabis with breast cancer is a good idea in this piece written for U.S. News and World Report. While marijuana users like Suzanne Weiner remark that, ‘“Pot helped me tremendously with the anxiety and stress of my diagnosis… I was a mess."’, doctors worry that when patients don’t discuss this with them, it may have unforeseen consequences. Dr. Marisa Weiss, chief medical officer of BreastCancer.org, notes, ‘"Some chemotherapy drugs are broken down by the same part of the liver that cannabis is, and you don't want to overtax the liver… smoking or vaping when receiving radiation or other therapies to your chest could affect lung function.”’ Generally, the consensus is that while marijuana use can be immensely helpful, it’s a good idea to check beforehand with your medical team. Read more
There is also a recent study brought to us by one of our readers related to this topic that we felt was important to share. According to the prospective cohort study, conducted with 102 cancer patients taking immunotherapy with or without cannabis use, those that were using cannabis alongside immunotherapy showed significantly reduced time of tumor progression as well as shorter times for overall survival. In analyzing cannabis metabolic byproducts in the blood of the participants, 4 cannabis metabolites were associated with overall survival times. However, the risk of immune related adverse events were decreased in those using medical marijuana. Since the study participants were not required to use a specific dosage, brand, or kind of cannabis and participants were allowed to vary these characteristics throughout the study, it is difficult to say whether or not these factors may affect the findings. Generally speaking, the study serves as a cautionary finding for those who are considering medical marijuana use while also taking immunotherapies. As always, we recommend that you consult with a medical professional before trying substances such as marijuana for your cancer care. Read More
We hope that these resources help to clarify the not well discussed relationship between breast cancer treatment and medical marijuana use. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, have used or considered cannabis, and would like to share your story, we’d love to hear about it! You can see some other breast cancer stories from our readers here. If you’re looking for a support group to join and discuss topics like this more, then look no further: SurvivingBreastCancer.org has a few programs that may be able to help provide a community for that.