Survivor says Cannabis use ‘was the best thing’ during Cancer
Cannabis use played a crucial role in Kim Stuck’s breast cancer journey, as she told CURE.
“I know from my personal experience, it was the best thing that I could have ever done,” she said. “I don't think I could have made it through without cannabis. I couldn't even imagine not having cannabis during that time.”
Stuck is the CEO and founder of Allay Consulting, a Colorado-based compliance strategy and services provider for the hemp and cannabis industry, and she has worked in the cannabis industry since 2014.
When Stuck was 38, her gynecologist — aware of Stuck’s family history with breast cancer — recommended she receive her first mammogram.
“That next week, I went in and got a mammogram,” she said. “And I got a call on Friday evening, saying, ‘We need to schedule you for another screening on Monday,’” she said. ‘And I was like, ‘OK. that's weird.’ (I) went back in (and) sure enough, they found a lump. That next day, they were really quick about it, got the biopsy, and I found out that I had stage 2 cancer.”
After receiving a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer last year, Stuck turned to cannabinoid and psilocybin therapies to supplement her standard chemotherapy regimen — a strategy that, she said, her care team whole-heartedly supported.
“I went into my doctor's (office) and I thought I was going to be walking into a fight,” she said. “Because I was ready to fight and say, 'I'm taking cannabis and mushroom therapies, because I believe in this medicine.' I've never had to really use it and on a medical basis other than for, you know, sleeping better, and things like that, so it was definitely a switch and I was a little scared to tell my doctors about it. But unbelievably, I was shocked, they were completely on board.”
Stuck was able to draw on her professional connections — “Most of the people in my industry are in the industry because they had a loved one that had some kind of medical issue … (who) use cannabis and it helped them,” she said — including the team at the non-profit organization Realm of Caring, which works to share information on cannabinoid therapies.
Less than a year after receiving her diagnosis, Stuck’s cancer is in remission and she is advocating for cannabis use among patients.
‘I’m surprised it took so long.’
Patients with cancer who used cannabis for palliative purposes experienced improvements in pain, sleep, cognitive function and reaction times, according to the findings of a new study.
“We think there's potential and it's worth studying,” said co-author Gregory Giordano of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. “People are using, we should study it, and we need to know more to be able to guide physicians and cancer patients and survivors as well.”
“I'm surprised it took so long for these (sorts of) studies to come out,” Stuck said. “I mean, even back when my aunt in the late ’70’s had cancer — she actually had breast cancer three times, like throughout her life and she I remember my parents being like, 'Oh, yeah she's smoking cannabis, because it helps with nausea and pain and that kind of thing,' even back then.”
Among the University of Colorado Boulder study’s 25 participants — with a mean age of 54.3, and 13 of whom were female — 17 (68%) reported no cannabis use in the week prior to the baseline appointment, but only eight (32%) reported no cannabis use in the 30 days before the baseline appointment. During the study’s two-week use period, patients consumed edible products for an average of 8.1 days, ingesting 116.4 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and 162.7 mg of cannabidiol (CBD), or 8.3 mg of THC and 11.6 mg of CBD per day, according to the authors.
“Sustained cannabis use was associated with improvements in pain intensity, pain interference, sleep quality, subjective cognitive function and reaction times … but no change in general quality of life was observed,” the authors wrote, noting that high levels of CBD use were associated with steeper improvements in pain intensity and sleep quality, and that after acute use participants reported improvements in pain intensity and “increased feelings of subjective high.”
High levels of THC use were associated with steeper increases in feelings of subjective high, and improvements in pain were associated with improvements in subjective cognitive function, according to the study.
“Doing this kind of research is tough, particularly if you want to use real world cannabis products that people can buy from dispensaries,” said Giordano. “We use a mobile laboratory, just like a van equipped to run research appointments so that we can study people after they use in their in their own homes, because we can't have these products on campus, and we can't provide it for them, so they have to purchase it themselves.
“We can't tell (participants) what to use, how much to use kind of all those details, so we have to do this kind of observational research right now where we can provide some basic safety information, but we can't give them all the guidance or all this assignment kind of stuff that you might want to do. And so we're getting people who are already interested in using and then just kind of watching them use, (that) is how we were able to get around this challenge.”
Nearly 80% of oncologists surveyed in a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology had discussed medical marijuana with their patients, and nearly half had recommended its clinical use, but less than 30% of doctors believed they were knowledgeable enough to make those recommendations, according to a news release from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Evidence has shown patients “using medical cannabis with minimal medical oversight,” obtaining authorization from providers unfamiliar with their medical history and relying on unregulated sources of information such as dispensary personnel, according to a study published in April in the journal Cancer, which found that 82.23% of cancer survivors who use cannabis reported doing so for medical purposes, compared to 62.58% of cannabis users with no history of cancer. Overall, 10.83% of individuals with no history of cancer and 7.57% of cancer survivors reported cannabis use.
Less than a third of patients reported having knowledge of the potency of the cannabis products they consumed in a survey of patients with cancer and survivors presented in April at the American Association for Cancer Research 2023 annual meeting in Orlando.
The Colorado team, Giordano said, would like to address some limitations of its initial study with a follow-up endeavor that would have components including blinding randomization and a larger sample size of participants.
“We're really interested in the different cannabinoids — the primary cannabinoids, THC and CBD — and how those may show different potential benefits or risks in this population. … We saw people taking more CBD over the two-week period, we saw associations with steeper improvements in pain intensity compared with the folks taking more THC,” Giordano said. “So, parsing out those relationships with the different cannabinoids in a larger sample would be really cool.”