Medical cannabis improves symptoms in cancer patients — Pain News Network
By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
According to a new study by Israeli researchers, medical cannabis improved pain and other symptoms in patients undergoing cancer treatment, while significantly reducing their consumption of opioids and other painkillers.
More than 300 cancer patients took part in the 6-month study, many of whom were seriously ill. Breast, colon, lung and ovarian cancers were the most common diagnoses, with about half of patients receiving chemotherapy (55%) or diagnosed with advanced stage IV cancer (48%).
“Traditionally, cancer pain is primarily treated with opioid painkillers, but most oncologists perceive opioid treatment as dangerous, so alternative therapies are needed,” said lead author David Meiri, PhD, assistant professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
“Our study is the first to assess the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients; collect information from the start of treatment, and with repeated follow-ups over an extended period, to obtain an in-depth analysis of its effectiveness.
Patients ingested tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-rich cannabis through oil extracts, smoke, or a combination of both. For many, it was their first time using cannabis.
Most patients (60%) reported a positive effect from cannabis treatment, with a significant improvement in their anxiety, depression, sleep, quality of life and catastrophic pain. Most reported a slight improvement in pain intensity and 20% said there was no improvement in their pain level.
There was, however, a significant change in the use of analgesics. About 40% of patients who were taking painkillers (opioids, NSAIDs, anticonvulsants or antidepressants) stopped taking these drugs while using cannabis.
“We have met many cancer patients who have asked us if medical cannabis treatment could benefit their health,” said co-author Gil Bar-Sela, MD, associate professor at Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula. . “Our initial review of existing research found that in fact, not much was known about its effectiveness, particularly for the treatment of cancer-related pain, and from what was known, most results were inconclusive.”
Notably, about one in five participants died during the study, which the researchers attributed to their poor health and advanced cancer. Many patients also lost weight.
“Medical cannabis has been suggested as a possible remedy for loss of appetite, however, most patients in this study still lost weight. As a significant portion were diagnosed with progressive cancer, weight loss is expected with disease progression,” Meiri said. “Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved for most men but worsened for most women.”
Overall, the researchers say cannabis treatment provided “mild to modest” improvement in cancer patients, with only minor side effects. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers of pain research.