A comprehensive study published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Pain Research’ has produced a comprehensive assessment of the benefits of medical cannabis for cancer related pain. The results revealed a significant improvement in pain and that other cancer related symptoms reduced in prevalence, overall, the side effects were minimal. 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.
Co-author Gil Bar-Sela, associate professor at the Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula said, “We encountered numerous cancer patients who asked us whether medical cannabis treatment can benefit their health. Our initial review of existing research revealed that 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 research programme recruited oncologists who were able to issue a medical cannabis licence directly to their cancer patients. These oncologists referred interested patients to the study and reported their disease characteristics. From what our team at CannaSVG understands, there have been several studies that assess the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients. In this particular study, they gathered information from the start of treatment and with repeated follow-ups for an extended period. Patients taking part in the study completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and then again at several time points during the following six months. Data was captured concerning several metrics, including pain measures, analgesics consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects.
Analysis of the data revealed that medical cannabis for cancer treatment improved several outcome measures, with reduced pain and cancer symptoms. The most significant finding, however, was the use of opioids and pain medications, which were able to be reduced. Amazingly, almost fifty percent of the patients stopped all pain medications following six months of using medical cannabis for cancer treatment. The study comes at a time when political policy makers are asking for more research and more clinical trials into the benefits of medical grade cannabis, but if you want good clinical trials, they do cost a lot of money. Our review and conclusion about this particular study is that it is very encouraging and although it was inconclusive, future studies will focus and investigate the effects on sub-groups of cancer patients. Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more shared characteristics, which must be the way forward.
A similar study on medical cannabis for cancer patients in a palliative care setting was produced by Upstate Cancer Centre with data analysed from 2017 to 2020. Patients were included in the study if they were diagnosed with cancer and were certified by a qualified practitioner in the New York Marijuana Program. The study showed that out of the patients who took one dose of medical marijuana, 48.14% experienced improvement in pain, 44.95% used fewer opioids, and 85.11% had an improvement in at least one symptom. Adverse effects were as low as 3.72%. In conclusion, the study showed that medical cannabis appears to have an important role in the palliation of symptoms in advanced cancers with few adverse effects. There are many remaining barriers to effective use and more prospective research is needed to optimise delivery and dose.
Large and small pharma companies and industry overall need to help facilitate the clinical trials that are taking place and shape rapid progress towards these much-needed medical grade cannabis solutions. For example, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels affect around 60 million people in the US alone and yet, statins (cholesterol-lowering medications) are only being used by a third of those people because the other two-thirds cannot tolerate the treatment. We understand that clinical trials have cannabis-based solutions which have already started.
In the future it is very likely the cannabis market will be divided into two segments. The first recreational, where regulation will allow it for wellness purposes, as edibles or simply recreational. The second segment is the medical side, the future is to turn cannabis into a regulated drug and help it reach patients to provide a safe and demonstrated solution. GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK company that developed a CBD solution for childhood epilepsy sold for $7 billion, is a very good example and exactly why the future is very positive for medical grade cannabis.
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