October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re reading this, chances are you, a loved one, or someone you know, is living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
Studies show that American women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer over their lifetime. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.”
Women facing serious health challenges now have the option to use cannabis to ease the effects of treatment or the pain caused by breast cancer. Learning about the benefits of cannabis is an important step toward making informed decisions on how it can support health or improve quality of life.
Benefits of cannabis
There are many benefits associated with using medical cannabis for breast cancer:
· Relieving pain by reducing inflammation
· Controlling nausea, and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
· Stimulating appetite caused by nausea
· Alleviating anxiety
· Increasing relaxation to alleviate insomnia
· Reducing hot flashes
· Shrinking cancer cells and slowing tumor growth
How cannabis helps women’s health
Our common understanding that women’s health differs from men’s has shifted the way the medical community and we, as American citizens, are looking at our health. We have moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach toward tailoring treatments to better meet our individual health needs.
With this in mind, researchers are looking more closely at the ways cannabis can benefit women. Here’s a look at what we know today.
How cannabis works in women
Not only are women’s cannabinoid receptors more sensitive, but there are high concentrations of cannabinoid receptors in the uterus, which helps to ease pain, regulate mood, memory, appetite, and sleep. As a result, women’s bodies absorb cannabinoids more quickly and efficiently and so require lower doses of cannabis. Overall, cannabis may contribute to better pain relief and relief of other symptoms experienced, specifically in women.
Over time and with daily use, women can build higher tolerances to cannabis, which would eventually require increased dosages.
As a side note, it’s important to distinguish when we say “women”, we’re referring to at-birth medical identification of sex as opposed to “gender”.
How estrogen affects the way women respond to cannabis
Estrogen levels continually fluctuate over the course of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This makes them more sensitive to the effects of cannabis.
If a woman is using cannabis to manage pain, she’ll need to adjust the amount of cannabis to achieve the desired benefits for her symptoms. For example, the effects of cannabis are strongest when estrogen levels are highest right after ovulation (or 14 days before your next period).
Women are sometimes prescribed hormonal therapy to help slow the growth and spread of breast cancer cells – which can add, block or remove hormones and affect how cannabis responds in her body. Interestingly, more recent cannabis studies show that CBD (cannabidiol) – one of the more than 100 compounds found in cannabis – inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells and reduces tumors in animals.
Strains and dosages
Different compounds that make up a cannabis plant have certain effects on our bodies and our bio-chemistry.
There are three varieties of cannabis: indica, sativa, and hybrid. Within each variety are a number of individual strains that have different 'cannabinoid profiles’ or healing properties that produce specific medicinal effects. Choosing a strain is based on the healing properties that it can offer to alleviate the symptoms that are being experienced:
Indica - provides physical relaxation that helps in managing pain and is more helpful for sleep or night time use.
Sativa - provides more energizing and uplifting experiences that help with mood and is sometimes better suited to daytime use.
Hybrid - are more balanced strains that can offer effects from either indica and sativa strains, depending on their dominant trait. For instance, some sativas produce anxiety in people predisposed to anxiety, however a hybrid may have been bred to lessen that effect. Hybrids are often created and bred to deal with specific medical conditions offering a more customized option.
Many factors need to be considered when determining proper dosage, like body type, natural pain levels, CBD tolerance, etc. What works for one person may not be the same for another. So it’s important to listen to how your body responds to different strains and dosages to find what’s optimal for you.
Cannabis for medical purposes
Michigan State legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 2009. Recently the regulations around using cannabis for medical purposes were updated. Women with breast cancer now have access to safe cannabis that’s produced under quality-controlled conditions.
Whether it’s your health or if you’re advocating on behalf of a loved one – it’s important to get the facts that you need to make informed decisions about one of the most important things in life – your health.
Get the conversation started today by working with your physician to obtain your Medical Marijuana Card in Michigan or drop-in and have a chat with an experienced Citizen Advisor. Our advisors are trained to help you find the right strains or products to meet your needs, guide you through the medical application process, as well as answer any questions you may have.
by Renee Ellison -- former government communications consultant and founder of Fleurish, an exclusively female-focused cannabis health and wellness company