In simple terms, cancer happens when a region of cells mutate and continue to grow and divide, and live longer in the body than normal cells are programmed to live. During this process, a tumor develops. However, the compounds in cannabis, including CBD and THC, have been shown to help keep this process from happening, or at least exacerbating. Cannabis helps the body, and in particular the endocannabinoid system, reestablish balance and re-activate apoptosis, or normal, programmed cell death, as seen in healthy cells.
CBD, specifically, has proven to inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumors, according to a 2011 study out of Israel. It also helped facilitate autophagy, or self-destruction, in the breast cancer cells. Once the cells self-destruct, they autodigest and die. In 2007, researchers in California also found that CBD inhibits the gene Id-1, which is linked to metastasis, the process during which cancer cells break off from the original tumor and permeate the body through the bloodstream.
THC can also help fight tumors. A 2014 study showed that THC helped shrink breast cancer tumors in mice by activating the CB2 and GPR55 cannabinoid receptors.
Some research suggests, however, that the best way to combat breast cancer is through the combined, synergistic benefits of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids, known as the entourage effect. Less popular cannabinoids like CBC and CBG have also been shown to curb the proliferation of breast cancer, especially in combination with CBD and THC.
Aside from targeting the cancer itself, cannabis can also treat the symptoms of breast cancer and the downsides of chemotherapy treatment, like nausea, appetite loss, and fatigue. A hybrid strain like OG Wreck, for instance, is helpful in treating nausea and pain, while a sativa like OCD can help stimulate appetite. Another hybrid, such as Snoop’s Dream, can also help relieve anxiety, common among cancer patients facing end-of-life dread, as well as stimulate appetite and repress nausea. Moreover, an indica strain like Afghan Kush can help fight insomnia and other discomfort that would keep one awake.
Cannabis has helped a number of breast cancer patients cope, including Melissa Etheridge. “It instantly, within a minute, relieves the nausea, relieves the pain,” she said. “And all of a sudden I was normal. You don’t take medicinal marijuana to get high. It’s not a high, it’s a normal. And all of a sudden I could get out of bed. I could go see my kids. It was amazing.”