Medical Cannabis is used by many people who suffer from cancer pain or chronic discomfort. A new study has found that cannabis products can also improve the quality of their lives.
“This can occur even without a change in pain levels,” said Dr. Wei Du, the co-director of Drexel University Medical Cannabis Research Center, Philadelphia. He was not involved with this new study.
He told Healthline that patients might say, “My pain is very high, but I manage to go to the office and spend time with my family,” when asked to describe their pain level.
Sometimes, the pain may be mild, but it can still affect their ability to function in daily life.
Medical Cannabis: Several common uses
Medical Cannabis comes in many forms, including dried flower, oils, and edibles, with varying potencies and different levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and other compounds.
Between 2016 and 2020, the number of Americans enrolling in medical cannabis programs grew by 4.5 times. Cannabis obtained from the legal recreational market may help some people manage their symptoms.
Researchers have studied the effects of medical Cannabis on specific symptoms, such as sleep problems or painTrusted Source. They also looked at how it helps patients reduce their use of opioid pain medication.
Comparing pain management and measuring quality of life
A study published in the May 9 issue of the Journal JAMA OpenTrustedSource examined the impact of medical marijuana on patients’ lives across several areas.
Du stated that patient-reported outcomes, such as the quality of life, can help understand how Cannabis helps people.
Researchers measured the health-related life quality of more than 3100 Australian patients treated with medical marijuana at a network of specialist medical clinics from 2018 to 2022.
At the first study visit, patients averaged 56 years old, with over half female and about one-third working.
Over two-thirds (67%) of patients reported using medical Cannabis to treat chronic non-cancer pain. Fewer patients used Cannabis to treat cancer pain, insomnia, and anxiety.
Around half of the patients reported using non-opioid medications. Some patients also reported taking antidepressants or benzodiazepines.
Researchers did not report medication use at the end, so it is unknown if medical cannabis treatment helped patients reduce the number of other medications they take.
At the end of the research period, 80% of monthly prescriptions for Cannabis were for products with a high CBD content, most of which were taken orally as oils or capsules. The remaining products either contained THC in high concentrations or a mixture of THC and CBD.
“A meager percentage of patients [used medical cannabis inhaled],” said Jason Busse DC, Ph.D. a professor in anesthesia at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and the associate director of Michael G. DeGroote Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.
He told Healthline that the capsules are “comforting” because they don’t cause any pulmonary problems associated with cannabis inhalation.
The quality of life has improved in several areas.
Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire throughout the study. This survey assessed their quality of life in several areas, such as general health, pain levels, physical functioning, and mental health.
Patients received 15 visits in total during the study period, or one-stop every 45 days. Patients attended an average of only five to six visits.
Busse noted that although the study focused more on changes in quality of life than symptom reduction, a specific aspect addressed bodily discomfort.
Patients reported improved quality of life across the board after starting medical Cannabis. Patients’ scores in one area of physical functioning initially increased but returned to baseline at the end of the study period.
On a scale from 0 to 100, the changes in each area ranged between 6 and 18 points. Researchers wrote that a 10-point difference or greater would be considered a “clinically significant difference.”
Busse said that some aspects of the quality of life had changed more than 10 points while others didn’t and that overall, there were few changes.
He said that “chronic pain” – the condition of most patients – is challenging to manage. “We don’t have many great cures.” We have a variety of treatment options that work for some people.
The results confirmed that, in line with this, the scores of patients were lower throughout the entire study than the scores for quality of life averaged by the general population.
Emyria is the parent company of Emerald Clinics, which operates the clinics from where patients obtain medical Cannabis. Emyria’s employee is the study’s author and was responsible for statistical analysis.
Medical cannabis benefits outweigh the harms.
Researchers also collected data on adverse side effects that patients experienced. The majority were mild or moderate, with only 3% being severe.
The most common side effects include sedation and sleepiness.
Busse said the low risk of side effects could be because more patients choose CBD-dominant medical cannabis products. “Many side effects associated with medical cannabis products can be attributed to the THC component,” he explained.
Overall, he stated that the results “give us some reassurance” that using these products for at least a half-year or longer did not seem to cause any harm.
Professor Du, chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Drexel University College of Medicine, said the study was retrospective. This means the researchers collected data on patients after the event.
Researchers need to control other factors that can influence patient outcomes. In this case, the quality of life.
On the other hand, Du is conducting a prospective study to examine the impact of medical marijuana on the quality of life of those living with HIV/AIDS, neuropathic, or posttraumatic stress disorder.
Du and his co-workers will recruit patients in this study and then track them over time.
The observational study did not include a comparison group of patients without medical Cannabis. Patients knew that they had received medical Cannabis. This can also affect outcomes.
Researchers also reported changes in the average scores based on patient responses. Some patients responded well to medical marijuana, while others did not.
Busse stated that it would have been easier for the public to understand the results had the authors reported the percentages of patients who experienced an improvement of at least 10 points.
He said that the study results are consistent with similar studies. However, they are greater than those seen in randomized controlled trials.