The highs and lows of cannabis

This plant, and its medicinal properties, has become a huge focus in treating cancer with majority of patients wanting to use it. Kyara Bergstrom informs us of the highs and low of using cannabis.


I get asked more about using cannabis than any other complementary therapy. Patients are sceptical about the advice given, due to the ‘big pharma conspiracy’. If there was a cure for cancer then it would get scooped up and that pharmaceutical company would make billions overnight. And, sadly, even if there was a cure that doesn’t mean cancer stops. Every time a child is born is a chance for cancer or a chronic illness (sad but true).

Cannabis is often used to help with side effects of chemo, such as nausea and vomiting. It can be used in many different forms: oil, suppositories, drops and smoking. Since being legalised (there is still a lot of paperwork surrounding this), more people want to use it. 

Everybody knows somebody who makes it or sells it. Though a valid tip – just because it’s more expensive, doesn’t mean it’s a superior product. It’s important to learn the percentages and what has been used to make it. I’ve seen products with many scary components added. 

The research 

There is excellent research on cannabis use for epilepsy and pain management but it’s not a ‘one-stop shop’ for everything. Any drug – natural or conventional – has limitations and cannabis is no different.

Claims that cannabis can cure   cancer are largely unsupportable as the research done is on mice and still in the Petri dish phase. We, as humans, are far more complex. So, the results from the mice or dishes doesn’t mean it’s effective for us, yet. 

Many researchers worldwide, including Cancer Research UK, are involved in the research of cannabis in cancer treatment. Though, this is extremely different to the commercially available cannabis products where there is no reliable research showing these products work. What this means is the everyday product you buy off the internet and streets is not proven to help treat cancer. 

Remember, numerous potent cancer drugs come from our environment, tree bark, flowers etc. But taking these plants on their own will not treat cancer. They don’t give the highly-controlled doses needed to treat cancer. If research continues to be positive and as more clinical trials are done, the dose of cannabis will be refined. 

Cannabis disrupts HER2 treatment

Claims that cannabis cures cancer is highly misleading and gives false hope to patients and their families. I have seen patients wanting to try cannabis   as their only treatment. As with all treatments, I recommend a three-month radiology follow-up, and in all these cases the tumours have almost doubled in size and in some cases, there was lymph node involvement as well. It’s important to know that cannabis can affect blood vessels and in some circumstances, encourages certain cancer cells to grow. 

I’ve seen in HER2 amplified breast cancer patients that if they use cannabis, their tumours don’t respond to treatments (especially metastatic HER2 patients) and as soon as stopping cannabis, their tumours started to respond to treatment. 

Regarding videos that claim cannabis cured cancer, we don’t know the tumour biology of the type of cancer in these videos, or if these patients had other treatments prior or after using cannabis. There are too many unanswered questions to believe every story out there.

Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Kyara Bergstrom

Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.


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