A new study by leading cannabinoid researcher Dr Dedi Meiri has found most cancer patients using medicinal cannabis experienced significant reductions in pain and other symptoms.
There were few side effects and painkiller consumption also went down, making medicinal cannabis a viable alternative treatment, according to the findings published in Frontiers in Pain Research.
The research team recruited certified oncologists who were able to issue a medical cannabis licence to their cancer patients. They referred interested patients to the study and reported on their disease characteristics.
Patients completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and at several points over the next six months, with data gathered on pain measures, analgesic consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects.
Pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia are common causes of suffering for oncology patients while undergoing treatment, and may even lead to a worsened prognosis.
An analysis of the data found patients reported less pain, fewer cancer-related symptoms and reduced use of opioid and other pain analgesics. Almost half of those studied stopped all analgesic medications after six months of medicinal cannabis treatment.
Meiri said: “Traditionally, cancer-related pain is mainly treated by opioid analgesics, but most oncologists perceive opioid treatment as hazardous, so alternative therapies are required.
“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.”
“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,” said Meiri.
“Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved for most men, but worsened for most women,” he added.
Meiri said future studies should examine 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, ethnicity, as well as cancer types and the stage of the 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,” he said.