Can marijuana help with breast cancer?



In 1996, when California became the first state in the Union to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, a trend was started. Twenty years later, marijuana, also called cannabis – referring to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant – can legally be used as a medication in 29 states and the District of Columbia, Governing magazine reports. In addition, seven states and the District have gone a step further and "have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passed measures in November [2016] legalizing recreational marijuana," the magazine reports.

Related: Foods to avoid breast cancer

21 PHOTOS
What Foods You Should Eat or Avoid to Prevent Breast Cancer
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What Foods You Should Eat or Avoid to Prevent Breast Cancer

Prevent breast cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Whether they contain body-boosting antioxidants or powerful micronutrients, these 13 foods are linked to lower breast cancer risk. Plus, find out what foods you should avoid.

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Flaxseed

According to flaxseed researcher Dr. Lilian Thompson, PhD from the Unversity of Toronto, research suggests that flaxseed may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Flaxseed contains plant omega-3 fatty acid ALA and lignans, which both inhibit tumor growth, as well as protective antioxidants.

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Oily Fish

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that women who ate the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who consumed the least. Oily fish like salmon and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

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Cruciferous vegetables

Vegetables in the cabbage family like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can protect against estrogen-dependent cancers. In addition to being a good source of carotenoids and fiber, cruciferous vegetables naturally contain chemicals called glucosinolates, which are known for their anticancer effects.

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Walnuts

Walnuts, which have anti-inflammatory health benefits, have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer in animal studies.

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Dark green, leafy vegetables

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens are significant sources of carotenoids, a micronutrient linked to reduced breast cancer risk. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that women who consumed high levels of carotenoids had 15-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate the lowest levels.

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Red, Yellow and Orange Vegetables

Other sources of carotenoids include vibrant vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and squash. Science suggests eating foods high in this micronutrient may reduce your risk of breast cancer.

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Green Tea

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found the consumption of green tea extract to inhibit two growth factors that promote tumor cell growth among women with breast cancer. The polyphenols in green tea may explain these anti-cancer properties.

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Whole Grains

Research suggests that diets high in fiber can lower your risk of breast cancer by reducing the levels of estrogen in blood. Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, as well as beans, brown rice and oatmeal.

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Seaweed

Varieties of seaweed like nori, kombu and wakame are high in cancer-fighting carotenoids. Sprinkle shreds of seaweed on top of salads and soups.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Studies suggest that the natural antioxidants in good-quality extra virgin olive oil may help fight breast cancer by suppressing the expression of cancer genes. The oil is pressed without heat or chemical treatments, thereby preserving valuable phytonutrients.

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Parsley

University of Missouri researchers found that a compound called apigenin, commonly found in parsley and other plants, stopped or slowed down tumor formation in rats with a certain type of breast cancer. Try mincing parsley on top of your dishes for a healthy boost.

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Folic Acid-Rich Foods

One study found that folate, a vitamin found in dark green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits, can mitigate the adverse effects of alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society. Another good way to get folic acid is by taking a daily multivitamin.

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Peanut Butter

A study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment last month found a link between regular peanut butter consumption in childhood and a decreased risk of developing benign breast disease, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer. While it's too early to suggest that peanut butter lowers breast cancer risk, it doesn't hurt to swap junk food with all-natural peanut butter-topped veggies and nuts at the kids' snack time.

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Avoid these foods that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

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Alcohol

You'd be surprised to find that even a little alcohol consumption can be unhealthy. According to the American Cancer Society, even a few alcoholic drinks a week may increase the risk of breast cancer in women.

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High-fat Dairy Food

U.S. News reports that even as little as one serving of high-fat dairy foods per day can increase the risk of breast cancer by nearly 50 percent, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Foods like whole milk and cream are considered high-fat dairy products.

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Red Meat

Researchers from the University of Leeds found that women who consumed red meat every day had a 56 percent greater risk of breast cancer than women who ate no red meat, stressing the importance of eating this protein in moderation.

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Processed Meat

Processed meats, like bacon, sausage and ham, are also on the chopping block. The same study revealed women who consumed these foods often had a 64 percent greater risk of breast cancer than those who ate none.

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Sugar

While sugar consumption has not been directly linked to breast cancer risk, eating unhealthily can promote obesity, which is associated with higher breast cancer risk. Limit your intake of cakes, cookies, sweetened cereals, sugary beverages and other sweets.

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Although marijuana can be legally used in many places now, it's still against federal law to use the drug, and the Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use to treat any medical condition. But some researchers are working to find out if marijuana could be a potential breast cancer treatment down the road. For now, the Drug Enforcement Agency lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug under federal drug schedules created when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Schedule I controlled substances "have a high potential for abuse, have no acceptable medical use in the U.S. and are unsafe when used under medical supervision," the DEA reports. Heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote are also classified as Schedule I drugs.

[See: 7 Innovations in Cancer Therapy.]

Nevertheless, in many states across the U.S. marijuana has begun to emerge as a potential medication, with a lot of patients and some doctors supporting its wider adoption based on miraculous-sounding anecdotal success stories. The drug is primarily used to treat chronic pain and nausea, but some doctors are prescribing marijuana to treat a host of other conditions, and delivery of the medication can come as a liquid – in tinctures or beverages; as a solid – in food, called "edibles"; or as a gas – through smoking.

The American Cancer Society reports that cannabinoids are the "biologically active components in marijuana." The two cannabinoids we know most about are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. THC "seems to cause the 'high' reported by marijuana users, and also can help relieve pain and nausea, reduce inflammation and can act as an antioxidant," the ACS reports. On the other hand, "CBD can help treat seizures, can reduce anxiety and paranoia, and can counteract the 'high' caused by THC." The levels of these compounds vary depending on the cultivar, or type, of marijuana being used, so different strains may be indicated for addressing a particular issue more than other strains.

Related: Health benefits of marijuana

9 PHOTOS
Health benefits of marijuana
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Health benefits of marijuana

1. Parkinson's 

Cannabis has been found to help slow tremors and pain in Parkinson's patients. According to Medical News Today, the compounds in marijuana help to "reduce the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain". 

A study conducted by Israeli scientists found smoking marijuana helped reduce these tremors. "We not only saw improvement in tremor in these patients, but also in rigidity and in bradykinesia," said researcher Ruth Djaldetti.

Furthermore, marijuana has been found to slow the progression of Parkinson's because of its antioxidant qualities. 

2. Glaucoma 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes glaucoma as a condition in which the optic nerve is damaged over long periods of time. It can limit vision and sometimes lead to blindness. 

The link between glaucoma and marijuana has been studied since the 1970s, as smoking marijuana has been found to lower eye pressure. Doctors are working on ways to elongate the effects of marijuana. 

It has been speculated that smoking the drug can slow the progression of the disease. 

3. Chemo patients

There has been extensive research on the benefits of cannabis and chemotherapy patients. The "wonder drug", as it is hailed, does miracles for cancer patients. 

According to Dr. Donald Abrams, marijuana "is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.”

The American Cancer Society claims that the drug can also lower pain, reduce inflammation and calm anxieties of not just chemo patients, but patients suffering from a chronic illness or disease. 

Scientists have found that cannabinoids, one of the many chemical compounds found in the plant, can inhibit tumor growth. It was particularly effective in the inhibition of colon cancer. 

4. Alzheimer's

According to an article published by CNN Health, marijuana may be beneficial for Alzheimer's patients. It was found that THC, an ingredient in cannabis, blocks inflammation in the brain and "stimulates the removal of toxic plaque". 

Marijuana has also been used to help dementia patients. Author and doctor David Casarett told CNN, "I spoke to many family members of people with mild or moderate dementia who believed that THC or whole-plant marijuana was effective in alleviating the confusion and agitation that sometimes occurs."

5. Skin Diseases 

It is widely known that marijuana possesses antiinflammatory benefits, helpful to patients who suffer from arthritis and cancer, amongst many others.

A study published by the University of Colorado found that using the drug topically can alleviate pain and "may be effective against eczema, psoriasis, atopic and contact dermatitis. More and more dermatologists are encouraging the use of cannabinoid cream. 

6. Stroke victims 

Cannabis and stroke victims is an interesting topic of study for many researchers, some of whom contend the drug can "shrink" the damaged area of the brain. 

Doctors, who tested the drug on mice, rats and monkeys, believe the chemical "shows promise as a neuroprotective treatment for stroke”, according to the Huffington Post.

7. PTSD

Advocates have argued that marijuana can provide immense relief for patients, specifically veterans, who suffer from PTSD. In states like New Mexico, "medical marijuana is legally prescribed for PTSD". 

A study conducted by the University of Haifa fond that marijuana helped block the "development" and progression of PTSD in rats. But, researchers explain, that there is a critical window of what marijuana can do. 

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The ACS notes that "dronabinol, a pharmaceutical form of THC, and a man-made cannabinoid drug called nabilone are approved by the FDA to treat some conditions." But using the leafy, smoked variety most Americans are familiar with is still illegal as far as the federal government is concerned.

In addition to THC and CBD, there are other compounds within marijuana that are being studied, but already, studies conducted at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco are showing promise in the use of cannabidiol to fight breast cancer specifically. A 2007 study published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics showed that CBD could slow or even stop the progression of metastatic breast cancer. In the study the team led by senior scientist Dr. Sean D. McAllister used CBD to inhibit the activity of the Id-1 gene, believed to be responsible for cancer cells becoming more aggressive and metastatic. "Metastasis is the final and fatal step in the progression of breast cancer," the authors write. "Currently available therapeutic strategies at this stage of cancer progression are often nonspecific, have only marginal efficacy and are highly toxic."

Related: Famous faces who have battled cancer

16 PHOTOS
Well-known figures who have battled cancer
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Well-known figures who have battled cancer

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

(REUTERS/Neil Hall)

Television personality Robin Roberts

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Another basal cell carcinoma. Thanks to frequent checks & amazing doctors, all's well. Looks worse w the dressing o… https://t.co/cFIi0Zhmtr

Actress Shannen Doherty

(REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Chef Sandra Lee

(Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)

Cyclist Lance Armstrong

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Actress Rita Wilson attends

(Photo by Tara Ziemba/Getty Images)

Former GMA anchor Joan Lunden

(Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)

TV host Sharon Osbourne

(REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian)

Journalist Tom Brokaw

(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Actress Christina Applegate

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage)

Comedian Wanda Sykes

(Photo by Tara Ziemba/Getty Images)

TV personality Giuliana Rancic

(Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Michigan Avenue)

Musician Sheryl Crow

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Musician Rod Stewart

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

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[See: A Tour of Mammographic Screenings During Your Life.]

Although the study was done in a lab on cells, not in actual live humans – which could yield different results – it showed that CBD could be a potential treatment to slow the growth and reduce the invasiveness of aggressive, metastatic cancers that currently respond to few if any available treatments. Further work by the team in animals has shown that cannabinoids may have antitumor effects, but more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms of how these plant compounds can influence the biology of cancer.

At this stage, most doctors would likely agree that it's too soon to say that marijuana can treat breast cancer directly and that marijuana should – like other alternative or holistic therapies – only be used as a complement to your prescribed course of treatment, if at all. The ACS notes, "relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences." But when used as a complement, many people report marijuana helps alleviate the nausea and pain associated with chemotherapy treatment. Some patients have also had success using marijuana to address the nerve pain associated with chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy.

But it's important to note that marijuana can bring its own side effects, including bloodshot eyes and dry mouth, slowed reflexes and decision making, disorientation and dizziness, increased heart rate, mood changes, increased appetite and possibly addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports "recent data suggest that 20 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder," also known as "problem use ... which takes the form of addiction in severe cases." About 4 million people in the U.S. "met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder" in 2015, the NIDA reports.

Related: Marijuana legalization across the country

51 PHOTOS
Marijuana legalization laws by state
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Marijuana legalization laws by state

Alabama: Medical use only, otherwise possession is a felony

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Alaska: Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

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Arizona: Marijuana legalized for medical use

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Arkansas: Medical use only

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California: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Colorado: Legal for medical and recreational use  

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Connecticut: Decriminalized and legalized for medical use 

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Delaware: Decriminalized

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Florida: Medical use only

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Georgia: Medical use only

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Hawaii: Medical use only

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Idaho: Not legal

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Illinois: Decriminalized

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Indiana: Not legal

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Iowa: Medical use only

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Kansas: Not legal

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Kentucky: Not legal

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Louisiana: Medical use only

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Maine: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Maryland: Decriminalized

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Massachusetts: Legal

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Michigan: Medical use only

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Minnesota: Decriminalized

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Mississippi: Decriminalized on first offense

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Missouri: Not legal

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Montana: Medical use only

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Nebraska: Decriminalized on first offense only

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Nevada: Legal

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New Hampshire: Medical use only

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New Jersey: Medical use only

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New Mexico: Medical use only

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New York: Decriminalized unless in public view

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North Carolina: Decriminalized

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North Dakota: Medical use only

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Ohio: Decriminalized

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Oklahoma: Medical use only

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Oregon: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Pennsylvania: Medical use only

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Rhode Island: Decriminalized

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South Carolina: Not legal

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South Dakota: Not legal

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Tennessee: Medical use only

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Texas: Medical use only, decriminalized in Houston and Dallas

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Utah: Not legal 

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Vermont: Decriminalized

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Virginia: Not legal

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Washington: Legal for medical and recreational use

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West Virginia: Medical use only

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Wisconsin: Medical use only

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Wyoming: Not legal 

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[See: Breast Pain? Stop Worrying About Cancer.]

Critics of the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use often point to its potential as a "gateway drug," meaning that it can lead to the use of other addictive drugs. The NIDA reports that although some research suggests that marijuana may "'prime' the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs," in most people, it's not an issue. "Also, cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs and are, like marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances."

If you're interested in using medical marijuana to address some of the side effects of treatment for breast cancer and you live in a state where it's available, be sure to speak with your doctor first. You'll need a medical marijuana card, which requires a doctor's evaluation, before you can access a dispensary. And if you do use it, be sure to communicate with your doctor about how best to do so.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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