A comprehensive evaluation of the benefits of medicinal cannabis for cancer-related pain found that for most oncology patients, pain measurements improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms also decreased, use of pain medication was reduced, and side effects were minimal. Published in Frontiers in pain researchThese results suggest that medicinal cannabis should be carefully considered as an alternative to the pain medications typically prescribed to cancer patients.
Pain, along with depression, anxiety and insomnia, is one of the most fundamental causes of disability and suffering in oncology patients during treatment and can even worsen the prognosis.
“Traditionally, cancer-related pain has primarily been treated with opioid analgesics, but most oncologists consider opioid treatment dangerous, requiring alternative therapies,” said author David Meiri, assistant professor at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
“Our study is the first to evaluate the potential benefit of medicinal cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients; Gathering information from the start of treatment and with repeated follow-up visits over time to provide a thorough analysis of effectiveness.”
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need for alternative treatment
After speaking to several cancer patients who were looking for alternative ways to relieve pain and symptoms, the researchers were keen to thoroughly test the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis.
“We encountered numerous cancer patients asking us if medicinal cannabis treatment could benefit their health,” said co-author Gil Bar-Sela, associate professor at Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula. “Our initial review of the existing research found that not much was actually known about its effectiveness, particularly for the treatment of cancer-related pain, and most of the results so far have been inconclusive.”
Researchers recruited board-certified oncologists who could issue medical cannabis licenses 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 multiple time points over the following six months. We collected data on a number of factors, including pain management, analgesic use, exposure to cancer symptoms, sexual problems, and side effects,” Bar-Sela said.
An analysis of the data found that many of the outcome measures improved, with less pain and cancer symptoms. It is important that the use of opioids and other painkillers is reduced. In fact, almost half of the patients studied discontinued all analgesic medications after six months of medical cannabis treatment.
“Medical cannabis has been suggested as a possible remedy for poor appetite, but most patients in this study lost weight anyway. Because a significant proportion of patients have been diagnosed with progressive cancer, weight loss can be expected as the disease progresses,” Meiri reported.
He continued, “Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved in most men but deteriorated in most women.”
Meiri would like future studies to go deeper and examine the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in different groups of cancer patients.
“Although our study was very comprehensive and presented additional perspectives on medicinal cannabis, gender, age and race, as well as cancer types and cancer stage meant that the diversity of patients in our study was broad. Therefore, future studies should examine the magnitude of the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more common characteristics.”