Star of the movie “Grease: Nos Tempos da Brilhantina” and owner of the hit “Physical”, actress and singer Olivia Newton-John died on the 8th of this month at the age of 73 while treating metastatic breast cancer, a disease she faced using cannabis.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. After 25 years of remission, Olivia announced in 2017 that the disease had returned and had spread to her lower back. In 2013, she was also diagnosed with a tumor on her shoulder.
The artist was an advocate of cannabis to fight cancer pain. “The pain relief was amazing as soon as I started using it. I am living proof that using cannabis works,” she said in an interview with Dr. Oz Show.
Already in a documentary, she stated that every cancer patient should have the chance to try cannabis and that ensuring its use would be a matter of common sense and compassion.
The actress created a foundation dedicated to cancer research and plant medicine to treat the disease. According to the institution’s website, there are at least five studies in progress. All of them are related to the role of plants in the fight against cancer.
According to oncologist Fabiana Makdissi, leader of the AC Camargo Breast Tumor Reference Center, cannabis is one of the alternatives for the treatment of chronic and oncological pain.
“Each type of cancer will ask for a specific treatment. In the case of using cannabis to treat pain, it is something that is allowed in some countries. Olivia was asking for authorization in Australia and discussing legalization there”, says the doctor, adding that , in Brazil, there is the possibility of using cannabis for the treatment of some diseases.
In 2017, Avisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) approved a cannabis-based drug for the first time and, since 2019, more than 15 products have already been released by the agency in a category that allows the temporary importation of drugs.
Due to the easing, orders to import medical cannabis products more than doubled in 2021 from the previous year.
In the last year, there were 40,191 new requests for imports of medicines containing cannabidiol, 110% more than in 2020, when 19,150 imports were registered. The data are from a survey by BRCANN (Brazilian Association of the Cannabinoid Industry).
According to José Almeida, immunologist and specialist in cannabis medicine, the product can help the patient not have to increase the dosage of medication for chronic pain. “Patients with pain take several medications and a characteristic of these cases is having to increase the dose more and more”, he explains.
With cannabis, we improve pain and emotions in a more complete way. I’m treating the patient as a whole
“When you offer cannabis treatment to a patient with pain, you do what we call integrative medicine. You work not only with pain, but also with the patient’s consciousness, his psychological state and the pain receptors.”
The doctor adds that, in some cases, the use of cannabis can help the patient to stop taking drugs that have side effects. “With cannabis, we improve pain and emotions in a more complete way. I am treating the patient as a whole.”
However, if the disease is too aggressive, the cannabis dosage may have to be increased, says the expert. In the case of Olivia Newton-John, a niece of the artist said that the oils were no longer effective as before and that she was in a lot of pain in the last days of her life.
“But it’s not that cannabis doesn’t work, but you’ll have to adjust the dosage according to the stage of the disease.”
It highlights the difference between cannabis medicine and recreational cannabis use. He says that the THC (substance with psychoactive effect) concentration in cannabis medicine is less than 0.3%. This rate, according to him, has no hallucinogenic effect.
“It is important to explain to the layman that the doctor is prescribing a product that will treat his problem based on science”, says Almeida. “The doctor is not prescribing marijuana, but an oil that has scientific proof for the treatment of that problem.”