A new study finds that using medicinal cannabis for cancer can reduce pain and the need for opiate painkillers.
A comprehensive assessment of the benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain has revealed that pain improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms decreased, painkiller consumption decreased, and side effects were minimal.
“Our study is the first to assess the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients; gathering information from the start of treatment and with repeated follow-ups for an extended period of time, to get a thorough analysis of its effectiveness,” explained author David Meiri, assistant professor at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research.
Medical cannabis for cancer: alternative treatment
The researchers discussed with several cancer patients about alternative options for pain and symptom relief, and they began testing the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for cancer care.
“We encountered numerous cancer patients who asked us whether medical cannabis treatment can benefit their health,” said co-author Gil Bar-Sela, associate professor at the Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula. “Our initial review of existing research revealed that actually not much was known regarding its effectiveness, particularly for the treatment of cancer-related pain, and of what was known, most findings were inconclusive.”
The researchers recruited oncologists who were able to issue a medical cannabis license to their cancer patients. These oncologists referred interested patients to the study and reported their disease characteristics.
“Patients completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and again at several time points during the following six months. We gathered data on a number of factors, including pain measures, analgesics consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects,” said Bar-Sela.
Less pain and cancer symptoms
The data revealed that medical cannabis for cancer treatment improved many outcome measures with reduced pain and cancer symptoms. The most significant finding was the use of opioids and pain medications were reduced. Almost half of the patients stopped all pain medications following six months of using medical cannabis for cancer treatment.
“Medical cannabis has been suggested as a possible remedy for appetite loss, however, most patients in this study still lost weight. As a substantial portion were diagnosed with progressive cancer, a weight decline is expected with disease progression,” reported Meiri.
He continued: “Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved for most men but worsened for most women.”
Meiri would like future studies to dig deeper and look at the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in different groups of cancer patients.
“Although our study was very comprehensive and presented additional perspectives on medical cannabis, the sex, age, and ethnicity, as well as cancer types and the stage of cancer, meant the variety of patients in our study was wide-ranging. Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more shared characteristics.”