Although federal laws governing the use of cannabis in the United States have remained rigid for decades, state laws have, to some extent, evolved in the last 27 years to allow limited use of cannabis for medical purposes. This began with Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, in California. Since then, several states have followed suit over the years, allowing the use of medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation for patients mainly suffering from chronic pain. The use of chemotherapy in treating breast cancer, which is relatively common among women, in addition to other cancers affecting the female reproductive organs, has led to discussions regarding the use of medical cannabis, particularly CBD, in alleviating chemotherapy symptoms such as chronic pain and nausea.
Despite there not being any approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support medical cannabis’ use as a cancer treatment, several studies, including a recent survey presented at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, have shown that a significant number of breast cancer patients across the United States are using medical cannabis to help cope with symptoms and during treatments like surgeries and radiation. Of the 42% of participants who acknowledged using medical cannabis for symptom relief, 78% were using it for pain relief, 70% for insomnia, 57% for anxiety, 51% for stress, and 46% for nausea.Despite more breast cancer patients switching to medical cannabis to help deal with pain and nausea, there is still a significant number of states across the US that either allow one of each (THC or CBD) or outright prohibit both recreational and medicinal use of cannabis. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of April 2023, 38 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical cannabis and its products
What makes the United States a region of interest when looking at the future of medical cannabis and the hope of breast cancer patients is how its laws are passed. While in other countries, laws are passed and enacted at a national level, in the US, patients have to deal with both state and federal laws, which often complicates the situation for breast cancer patients when deciding where to move. In addition to this, even if medical cannabis is legal in a state where a breast cancer patient lives, it is up to their employer to decide whether to tolerate cannabis at the workplace. The situation becomes even more difficult when it comes to federal employees, as the US Federal Government prohibits the use of cannabis for any purpose regardless of state laws, as stipulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) due to the classification of cannabis as a controlled substance.
In addition to the above findings, what the Coala-T-Cannabis Survey Study also found was that of the total subjects who were using medical cannabis during breast cancer treatment, most did not want to disclose their use to a physician. The same group of participants taken from the national sample also helped portray the state of medical cannabis in America by showing the various sources they use to get access to the drug. From the study, we learn that edibles were responsible for 70% of medical cannabis consumption, followed by liquids at 60%, smoking at 51%, topicals at 46%, and vape pens at 45%.
Breast cancer has brought to light the importance of finding effective pain management strategies, especially for those undergoing extensive treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. For many breast cancer patients, chronic pain becomes a daily reality as they navigate the complexities of their illness and treatments. Despite the complexities of U.S. legislation, there is a chance for medical cannabis to emerge as a victor and become a nationwide, readily available remedy for women across America suffering from breast cancer who are dealing with chronic pain and side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and loss of appetite, among others. While some experimental research seems to suggest that medical cannabis has anti-cancer activity properties, more needs to be done to establish solid and reliable results before medical cannabis can be recommended and approved as a treatment by the FDA.
The Controlled Substances Act. (n.d.). United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved September 11, 2023, from https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/csa
Haji Abdolvahab, M., Mofrad, M., & Schellekens, H. (2016). Interferon beta: From molecular level to therapeutic effects. International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology, 343-372. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.ircmb.2016.06.001
Kisková, T., Mungenast, F., Suváková, M., Jäger, W., & Thalhammer, T. (2019). Future aspects for cannabinoids in breast cancer therapy. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(7), 1673. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20071673
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2023, April 24). State medical cannabis laws. Retrieved September 11, 2023, from https://www.ncsl.org/health/state-medical-cannabis-laws
Vitiello, M. (1998). Proposition 215: De Facto Legalization of Pot and the Shortcomings of Direct Democracy. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 31. https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjlr/vol31/iss3/4/
Weiss, M. C., Hibbs, J. E., Buckley, M. E., Danese, S. R., Leitenberger, A., Bollmann‐Jenkins, M., Meske, S. W., Aliano‐Ruiz, K. E., McHugh, T. W., Larson, S. L., Le, E. H., Green, N. L., Gilman, P. B., Kaklamani, V. G., Chlebowski, R. T., & Martinez, D. M. (2021). A Coala‐T‐Cannabis survey study of breast cancer patients’ use of cannabis before, during, and after treatment. Cancer, 128(1), 160-168. https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.33906