FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

Integrative cancer therapies pose many practical, legal and ethical questions for patients and practitioners. We welcome your comments.

Michael Lerner

How can I convince my mother to try integrative therapies?

Question: My mother is 74 years old. She was just diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She only wants to do conventional therapies. I am aware that some integrative therapies—diet, stress reduction, exercise, social support and the like—might enhance her quality of life and potentially extend her life. How can I convince her to try them?

ML: Broadly speaking, I wouldn’t try to change your mother’s mind. I often get these questions. It is your mother’s cancer and your mother’s life. If you really want to help her in meaningful ways, ask heror intuithow you could truly be most useful. Love is the greatest healing force.

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CBD isn't legal in my state. What should I do?

Question: I have a friend who is in significant pain from bone cancer. I am aware of the negative side effects of many of the mainstream pain medications. CBD products (cannabis) have an excellent safety profile and there is a substantial literature on its benefits for cancer pain. It is legal in adjacent states but not in my state. I could readily drive over the border to obtain some for my friend, who is eager to try it, but that would be illegal. What should I do?

ML: Welcome to one of the core ethical and legal dilemmas of integrative cancer care. First, none of us working on BCCT will ever recommend that you do anything illegal. Second, the dilemma you face it an ancient one. Does your friend have the ethical right to do what he chooses to do with his own body? Does the state have an absolute interest in interfering with that right? Do you have an ethical obligation to help your friend? Do you choose to commit an act of civil disobedience in support of your friend’s putative ethical right?

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Should we take the legal risk of using and try one of the psychedelic substances for healing?

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your mind: What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression and transcendence.” Inspired by Pollan’s book, I read James Fadiman’s “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic and Sacred Journeys.” My wife has breast cancer and is quite depressed. She has a life history of depression following experiences of abuse in childhood. Pollan makes a powerful research-based case for the benefits of MDMA, psilocybin, and even ayuahasca as ways to address cancer, depression, and PTSD. Fadiman’s collection of key writings from others as well as his own observations provides further reinforcement for my sense that the risk is low if one proceeds carefully and the potential benefits can be life transformative. Yet these substances are Schedule 1 drugs, strongly disapproved by the FDA.
Should we take the legal risk and try one of these substances for her healing—and mine?

ML: You’ve asked the big question—and upped the ante on the question from our previous guest about obtaining cannabis-based CBD for his friend. While cannabis for therapeutic and recreational use is rapidly becoming legal in the US, psychedelics are far behind and the penalties are more severe. Yet tens of thousands of people use MDMA—or ecstasy—as a party drug every year, and use of psilocybin and ayuhuasca are widespread as well. What are your choices?

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Why doesn't BCCT address childhood cancers?

My son’s 8 year old son has leukemia. BCCT does not seem to address childhood cancers. Why this omission?

ML: Fair question. It is one thing to address integrative cancer therapies for informed adults. It is quite another to assess them for children. It is not that integrative cancer therapies are not relevant for children. The issue is the heavy burden of responsibility that treatment of childhood cancers represents for both practitioners of conventional and integrative therapies. We’re just not ready to go there— yet. Its hard enough to get integrative therapies right for informed and consenting adults. We wish your son well—and his son—and your whole family.

LP: A database called KNOW Oncology is a dynamic clinical and educational tool that provides summaries of up-to-date research in integrative oncology. KNOW is adding summaries of integrative therapies with research evidence in pediatric cancers. You must be a member of OncANP (Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians) to access the summaries. An allied member category allows any licensed health care providers or biomedical researchers (and not just licensed naturopaths) to pay the membership fee and get access to this tool.

How do you address the issue of expense and access?

Many of these integrative cancer therapies are expensive—and not reimbursed on health insurance. Beyond that, there are millions of low-income people for whom they are completely inaccessible. How do you address the issue of access?

ML: This is a tremendous concern. Many of these therapies are expensive. But some of the most powerful ones are accessible to anyone who has the time and energy to explore them. Our 7 Healing Practices are eating well, moving more, managing stress, sleeping well, creating a healing environment, sharing love and support, and exploring what matters now. They aren’t free in terms of time. Some of them bring ancillary expenses with them, such as opting for nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits instead of cheaper processed foods. But many involve no financial cost.

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Can I throw the kitchen sink at my cancer?

Can't I just use all the supplements and therapies that come up [in the Search Therapy Summaries list] for my kind of cancer?

LP: I have worked with many people with cancer who have thought that "more is better" when deciding on complementary therapies, including natural products/supplements.

Though it makes sense to integrate a variety of therapies and lifestyle practices, the key is to choose therapies that will complement each other, will target your particular terrain and tumor microenvironment, will not interfere with nor increase toxicity of conventional treatments, and fit your goals. When thinking about natural products and supplements, these points are important:

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