Olivia Newton-John Managing Late-stage Cancer with Cannabis: Is It Safe?

During her long battle with cancer, singer and actress Olivia Newton-John has tried different treatments. Today, battling stage 4 breast cancer, Newton-John appears to be including a more holistic approach to treating her disease along with other conventional strategies. This approach includes the use of cannabis.

“I don’t talk about a battle or a war because I think that kind of sets up that feeling in your body, you’re battling something strange inside you,” she said in a recent interview with 60 Minutes Australia. “I let it go and tell it to leave, and talk to my body to heal itself, and don’t try to make it that, because that takes up your whole life and your whole being.”

She described visualizing the cancer leaving her body through meditation, “and I see the herbs and the medicines that I’m taking making it go.” When dealing with intense pain, Newton-John said she used cannabis to wean herself off of morphine after she was hospitalized for a broken sacrum.

This is all in addition to more traditional cancer treatments. Newton-John said in an interview with SurvivorNet, “I believe in the holistic approach of using everything you can that you’re comfortable with. So I do that. I’m taking anti-estrogenic pharmaceutical pills [hormone treatment].”

Newton-John continued, “I share it all with my doctor, and she’s been very positive about it because she’s seen positive results with some of her other patients, too. But I’ve done a mixture [of conventional medicine and natural, alternative therapies]. Like when I was in Australia and had the broken sacrum, it turned out I had some tumors that needed to be zapped, so we did targeted radiotherapy on those places. And after my first breast cancer diagnosis, I had surgery and chemotherapy. These past two diagnoses, I haven’t done chemo, but I’ve had radiation and [hormone] therapies.”

But what does the literature say about marijuana as part of cancer treatment?

A recent study in mice found that a marijuana derivative may help treat pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease. The non-cannabinoid, non-psychoactive treatment was called “FBL-03G” in the study, which was published in Frontiers in Oncology. The researchers reported: “In vitro results show major increase in apoptosis and consequential decrease in survival for two pancreatic cancer models- Panc-02 and KPC pancreatic cancer cells treated with varying concentrations of FBL-03G and radiotherapy. Meanwhile, in vivo results demonstrate therapeutic efficacy in delaying both local and metastatic tumor progression in animal models with pancreatic cancer when using FBL-03G sustainably delivered from smart radiotherapy biomaterials. Repeated experiments also showed significant (P < 0.0001) increase in survival for animals with pancreatic cancer compared to control cohorts.”

In general, research has suggested that the use of different derivatives of marijuana may alleviate some of the unpleasant side effects of traditional cancer treatments. The American Cancer Society breaks down how different deviations of the drug affect the body differently: “For example, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) seems to cause the ‘high’ reported by marijuana users, and also can help relieve pain and nausea, reduce inflammation, and can act as an antioxidant. Cannabidiol (CBD) can help treat seizures, can reduce anxiety and paranoia, and can counteract the ‘high’ caused by THC.”

Some of the possible benefits of marijuana may include:

  • Treatment of neuropathic pain and chemotherapy-associated nausea/vomiting
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased need for pain medicine
  • In animal and lab studies, slowed/reduced growth of cancer cells/antitumor effects
  • Improved anxiety/sleep

Potential adverse effects associated with marijuana include:

  • Reduced movement control
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal symptoms—although mild compared to those associated with opiates—may occur, including irritability, insomnia, restlessness, and hot flashes

The American Cancer Society says on its website, “The American Cancer Society supports the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients, and recognizes the need for better and more effective therapies that can overcome the often debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment.”

Kaitlyn D’Onofrio is a digital medical writer. She is interested in musculoskeletal health, the effect of exercise on health, and mental health awareness. When she’s not writing for DocWire, Kaitlyn is teaching yoga classes in her community, promoting wellness to her students.