Ask a Vet: Can Cannabis Treat Breast Cancer in Cats?
My older lady cat has very swollen and hard breast tissue on her lower breasts. We have been recommended treatment of cannabis oil orally and directly, mixed with olive oil. Is this the correct way to go? If so how much should we use and how long should it take?
Every time I read that question I am compelled to sigh. Where should I begin? Let’s start with breast cancer in cats.
Breast cancer is not uncommon in cats who have gone through several heat cycles, especially if they have not borne litters. It appears that the hormonally triggered patterns of mammary growth and diminishment that accompany heat cycles can, in some circumstances, trigger uncontrolled growth of breast tissue. Totally uncontrolled growth of tissue has a name: cancer.
Photo of Dr. Eric Barchas by Liz Acosta
Mammary tumors come in two broad categories. There are benign tumors, which tend to grow in one spot but do not spread to other organs and rarely threaten life. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, might spread throughout local tissue and might also spread to distant sites in the body.
In cats, most breast tumors are malignant. The majority of mammary (breast) masses in cats consist of a type of cancer called mammary adenocarcinoma. The cat mentioned in the query I received probably has mammary adenocarcinoma. In other words, she probably has breast cancer.
Mammary adenocarcinoma starts as a hard lump or several hard lumps in one or more breasts. The tumors might spread to other breasts, the tissues around the breasts, and to lymph nodes near the breast. The tumors might become large, causing ulcers and infections. They might spread to the lungs or other vital organs, with life-threatening consequences.
Sound familiar? Breast cancer in cats is in many way similar to breast cancer in people.
Consider this: For many years there have been campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer in people. I daresay those campaigns have been very successful. Pink ribbons are quite ubiquitous in our society. Breast cancer is on peoples’ minds, and everyone is hoping for a cure.
Marijuana, as it turns out, also is pretty ubiquitous in our society — especially in places where it is legal for medical or recreational use. Don’t you think, with all of the people consuming cannabis, all of the people who want to promote the legal use of cannabis, and all of the people who want to cure breast cancer, that someone would have noticed if cannabis could cure or treat breast cancer? It would be simple to run an epidemiological study that would, after adjusting for confounding variables, reveal lower rates of breast cancer among cannabis users. Such a study would be downright earth-shattering. It would garner huge front page headlines on newspapers everywhere. US (and world) drug policy would change overnight.
I strongly suspect I know why news of cannabis as a breast cancer treatment never has made the headlines. Cannabis does not treat breast cancer.
The query from the cat owner bothers me on many levels. Where did this person get his information? Who is recommending cannabis instead of something that might help? I’m guessing the answer is a huckster.
The cat in question desperately needs veterinary attention. Instead the owner is mucking around, asking Internet vets about modern day snake oils.
That’s right: Cannabis is turning into the snake oil of the modern era. People are claiming that cannabis can do all sorts of things that it simply cannot. Animals are suffering as a consequence.
I have another issue with this matter. Ridiculous and fraudulent claims about cannabis impair research into legitimate uses for the product. In humans cannabis has demonstrated potential to treat pain, insomnia, inappetence from chemotherapy, anxiety disorders, and other ills. It is highly probable that formulas and molecular structures can be tweaked to help cats with these problems as well.
But people who make ridiculous claims about cannabis demean the credibility of the product in general. With so many hucksters promoting cannabis for outlandish and outrageous purposes, people might turn against the research that would help uncover legitimate uses and formulations that might help animals and people.
What would motivate people to make outlandish claims about cannabis’ medical uses? I’m guessing it’s the same thing that has motivated snake oil salesmen since time immemorial: profit. There’s money to be made by selling THC oil to unsuspecting suckers. But that profit comes at a price to the animals who are denied proper treatments, and to the animals who might benefit from legitimate uses of cannabis.
Read more on cats and health:
- 5 Things I Did Wrong When I Took My Cat to the Vet
- Has Your Cat Ever Given Your Vet a Funny Story?
- 11 Cat Emergencies That Need Immediate Veterinary Attention
Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and your topic might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)
- Tags: Ask A Vet, Catster Commentary, Common Health Issues, Good Advice, Health & Care
Dr. Eric Barchas
Dr. Eric Barchas is a professional traveler who spends his spare time working as a full-time veterinarian; contributing to Dogster and Catster; walking, cooking, camping, and exploring the outdoors; skiing (when conditions permit); and reading Booker-shortlisted novels. In between trips Dr. Barchas lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Denise, and his canine pal, Buster. His main veterinary interests are emergency and critical care, wellness, pain management and promotion of the human-animal bond. Dr. Barchas has to Dogster and Catster since May 2005.
Can Cannabis Help Your Cat Cope with Cancer?
We know that medical marijuana has helped many people cope with cancer. But about cats? Can cannabis be used to treat cancer in felines? Find out if pot can have a positive effect on your cat’s cancer symptoms.
In the last few years, we have seen that the use of medical marijuana can effectively treat symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other maladies, in humans. The typical marijuana plant is classified as cannabis sativa, and contains CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) compounds. THC is the compound in cannabis that induces the chemical “high.” Products that are made with less than 0.3 percent THC are considered to be legal for purchase in all 50 states.
Using marijuana to treat certain medical maladies is not a new phenomenon. It’s been used as an ingredient in medicines for centuries. In fact, records indicate that pot was used by the Chinese as a curative herb, beginning about 10,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used cannabis to treat tissue inflammation.
By the 1970s, many Vietnam War veterans used marijuana to reduce muscle spasms from injuries sustained in battle. A few years later, a synthetic version of THC was introduced, and was used to great success to offset the violent nausea associated with chemotherapy. Cannabis therapy was used in the treatment of chronic pain as well.
But at this point, you might be asking: “What does this have to do with CATS?”
Well, since cats are warm-blooded mammals, just like you and I, they’re just as capable of getting cancer. According to the Pet Health Network, the most common forms of cancer in cats are: lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer, and skin cancer.
How does medical marijuana actually help cats cope with cancer?
The CBD in cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, which also lessens some of the adverse side effects of THC in pot. In higher concentrations, THC can be toxic to felines. However, if the THC is used at levels below 0.3 percent, this CBD/THC treatment can be quite beneficial.
One of the products that uses this cannabis combo is Canna Companion. Created by Dr. Sarah Brandon and Dr. Greg Copas, this hemp-based supplement also contains Omega 3, fatty acids, Vitamin B6 as well. Hemp has no known negative drug interactions.
According to the manufacturers of this CBD/THC product, Canna Companion can:
• Control chronic pain and inflammation
• Reduce seizures
• Decrease nausea
• Reduces dementia
• Relieve bronchial spasms
• Lower anxiety
“The future of cannabis in the cat world is quite positive,” says Dr. Brandon, in a recent article in The Conscious Cat. “I believe with 2-3 years it will be a commonly offered options in veterinary hospitals for pain and inflammation reduction, neurological condition, and mild behavioral concerns.”
But isn’t marijuana still an illegal drug?
Yes. At least when it comes to recreational use. Marijuana is still considered to be a Schedule 1 controlled substance, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 29 states (plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico) allow for the medical use of marijuana. And since Canna Companion is a supplement, and its THC content is less than 0.3 percent, the product is currently exempt from the DEA’s purview.
What are the side effects of this medical marijuana treatment?
The most common side effect of this CBD/THC product is mild lethargy, typically in the first few days of treatment. Some treated cats experience soft stools and more frequent bowel movements. Hemp itself tends to have a high fiber content, which some cats might be sensitive to. Lowering the dosage can relieve that particular issue.
“Cannabis is not a cure-all and we certainly don’t advocate discontinuation of prescribed medications without consulting your cat’s veterinarian,” says Dr. Brandon. “None the less, it does have its place in the feline world and we’ll see more of it as time goes on.”