Ancient Disease and Ancient Treatment
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an international health campaign to increase attention and support for the disease. Are you aware that breast cancer can be traced back to several hundred years BC?
The Siberian Ice Maiden is a 2,500-year-old mummy of a woman found in 1993 in a kurgan (mound) in southwestern Siberia. The tomb of the maiden was considered to be among the most significant Russian archaeological findings of the late 20th century.
Thanks to the varied scientists, archaeologists, pathologists, etc. who have studied the mummy, it has been determined that the 25 year old suffered with primary right breast cancer with involved right axial (armpit) lymph nodes with metastasis. Suprisingly, one of the possessions found in the tomb was a container holding cannabis.
Cannabis and Cancer
Modern-day scientists have increasingly been turning their attention to cannabis due to its potential to inhibit or destroy cancer cells, and at the very least, manage the pain and symptoms that come with the illness. But then, ancient people seem to have known that already.
The 2,500-year-old ice preserved corpse of the maiden has caused a sensation in archaeological and cannabis communities due to compelling evidence of her medicinal cannabis use.
'Goodbye... 'Reconstruction of a burial scene of Ukok Princess, with both women dressed in traditional Pazyryk clothes. Courtesy of Elena Shumakova, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science
History of Cannabis
The use of cannabis has a long and varied history. Evidence of the inhalation of cannabis smoke can be found in the 3rd millennium BCE, as indicated by charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual stove at an ancient burial site in present day Romania. While the drug was used for a variety of purposes, including its psychotropic properties, it was also used as a healing agent. The first recorded use of cannabis as a medicine dates back to 2,737 BC, used by Emperor Shen Neng of China.
Evidence for the consumption of cannabis has also been found in Egyptian mummies dated about 950 BC. Due to her ongoing illness, it is likely that the Ice Maiden would have needed to use the strongest available painkillers. It is known that the people of the mountain region had long made use of wine, opium, henbane, and marijuana as part of their pharmacopoeia.
With the benefit of modern research, we are now increasingly aware of the ability of cannabis to manage various types of chronic pain, including that resulting from cannabis.
Using Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana comes in a variety of strains and each has different levels of active compounds and potency. This means the effects of medical marijuana will be unique to each person and can be difficult to predict.
Medical marijuana products come in many different forms, including:
- edibles, such as cookies, candy, mints, or brownies
- dried leaves or buds for smoking
- oils for vaporing or mixing into tea, honey, or other food
- creams and other products that are applied topically
- sprays or tinctures that are used under the tongue
Many oncologists would prefer that their patients not smoke anything. It is critical to explore these options with your physician because every person’s situation is unique and the best form of medical marijuana will vary from person to person.
Marijuana and CBD are not treatments for breast cancer. People use marijuana to ease the side effects of treatment and pain caused by the cancer.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that marijuana may ease the following effects caused by breast cancer and treatment:
- hot flashes
- loss of appetite
Still, because marijuana is federally illegal, research on marijuana to manage cancer treatment side effects is limited.
Early Detection Screenings
To minimize the chance of mortality as much as possible, it is important to detect breast cancer early. Many people with breast cancer don’t experience symptoms, so the easiest way to catch breast cancer before it spreads is to perform regular screenings.
You can check for breast cancer using a few methods. Women over 45 years old should get annual mammograms to track changes in the breasts. Also, you can perform regular self-exams to understand the typical shape and feel of your breasts.
Cannabis and Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. A recent study performed by the founder of BreastCancer.org, Dr. Marisa Weiss, has found that “women with early stage and metastatic disease sought symptomatic management of pain, anxiety, insomnia, and nausea with cannabis.” In her study, Dr. Weiss looked at medical cannabis and cancer treatment from the patient’s perspective, which doctors – and other patients – can learn from.
Breastcancer.org recently opened a nationwide scientific-based survey among women with breast cancer to ascertain their knowledge and attitudes about cannabis – both marijuana and hemp, as well as their product choices and outcomes. The survey also covers whether women are talking to their doctors about their cannabis use and how that dialogue is perceived.
American Cancer Society and Cannabis
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. The Society also believes that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration imposes numerous conditions on researchers and deters scientific study of cannabinoids.
The evidence from her tomb suggests that Siberian Ice Maiden could have been a shaman; likely the most exalted member of her tribe. The Siberian Ice Maiden has taken on a second life as a cultural and scientific ambassador for the Altai region of Russia.
The locals of the region today believe that the Maiden has offered them protection from the COVID-19 virus. When she was alive, the Siberian Ice Maiden was a woman of significance. In death, she may be even more so.