A new study shows that Medicinal Cannabis relieves cancer pain and can reduce the need for other drugs and opioids.
In addition, products with a balance of the active compounds delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — versus those dominant in either one — were more effective.
Researchers concluded that “Our data suggests that [medicinal marijuana] can be used as a complementary and safe treatment option for cancer patients [who] fail to achieve adequate pain relief with conventional analgesics such as opioids.”
Cannabis use improves pain symptoms.
PainTrustedSource is common among cancer patients. Cancer, cancer treatments, or any other factor can cause it.
A doctor may prescribe acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage a patient’s pain.
Opioids can be used to control more severe pain. However, they also have side effects, such as nausea and drowsiness.
Research (Trusted Source) shows that even with the availability and affordability of opioid medication, about one-fourth of cancer patients do not receive adequate treatment.
Cannabis is one of the many alternative pain-controlling methods that cancer patients use.
A study finds THC and CBD products can relieve cancer pain.
Researchers studied 358 cancer patients over 3.5 years to better understand whether medicinal cannabis could safely and effectively reduce cancer pain. The data came from the Quebec Cannabis Registry, located in Canada.
Over half of the patients were female. The most common cancers diagnosed were genitourinary (including breast), colorectal (including lung), and blood.
More than 72% of patients report having pain symptoms. A small number also report nausea, anxiety, or insomnia.
Patients were allowed to use various cannabis-based products: 25% used products with a high THC content, 38% that had to balance THC and CBD, and 17% that contained primarily CBD. More than half of the patients consumed the product.
Researchers found that patients’ pain symptoms declined over a year. Researchers measured the worst and average intensity of pain, overall pain severity, and how much pain interfered with daily life.
The products that were a balanced combination of THC and CBD provided more potent pain relief than those that were THC-dominant or CBD-dominant.
Angela Bryan, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, who was not part of the study, believes that a product with a balance of nutrients has a more substantial effect.
People have used the entire plant rather than extracts, which contain THC, CBD, and various other active components.
Bryan told Healthline, “There’s something about a plant working together which might be the sweet spot of effectiveness.” We need more data, and we also need outstanding plant scientists who can help us.
The authors of this new study found that at every quarterly checkup, the number of medicines patients take decreases. The first three visits saw a reduction in opioid use.
The study also found that medicinal cannabis was safe. Sleepiness and fatigue were the most common side effects reported.
Five patients stopped taking medicinal cannabis because of side effects. Eleven reported side effects ranging from moderate to severe.
The researchers noted that “the perfect safety profile [of medicinal cannabis] found in the study can be partially attributed to the tight supervision of healthcare professionals who authorized and directed the treatment.”
It is important to note that this study was observational; therefore, it cannot show a relationship between cannabis consumption and reduced pain symptoms or medication usage. The study could not follow many patients for the duration of the study, and there was limited information about medications taken by patients.
Reducing pain can also improve your thinking.
Another study supports the use of cannabis to relieve pain. Bryan stated that even when patients use different cannabis products in their studies, they still experience some pain relief.
She said that it didn’t matter which preparations people used.
Bryan and his colleagues published a study on April 26 in Explore in Medicine that found cancer patients using cannabis products experienced less pain, better sleep, and improvements in certain aspects of their thinking.
Twenty-five cancer patients used cannabis for two weeks.
Patients used various cannabis products, including chocolates, gummies, tinctures, and baked goods, with different potencies and ratios of THC to CBD.
Researchers measured patients’ pain, sleep patterns, and cognition before the study began and again after two weeks.
Researchers drove a mobile laboratory to the patient’s house and performed the assessments.
Patients buy cannabis products and use them at home. Researchers are restricted in their ability to study cannabis consumption by people due to legal restrictions.
After an hour, cannabis users’ pain symptoms reduced, but their cognition was impaired, and they felt “high.”
After two weeks, the patients experienced improvements in sleep quality and cognitive functions such as reaction times.
Bryan was surprised by the effect cannabis has on cognition, as both cannabis and chemotherapy are linked to impaired thinking.
She said that it’s unclear how cannabis could improve cognition for cancer patients. However, cannabis may help to relieve some side effects from cancer treatment.
Bryan said that “chronic inflammation” caused by cancer treatment is responsible for many of the side effects. “There might be a direct anti-inflammatory action [of cannabis] in the brain.”
CBD Pain Relief and Cognitive Enhancement
There are indirect effects. The researchers found that those whose pain levels decreased the most had more significant cognitive improvements.
Bryan stated that “it wasn’t a big effect, but it was reliable.” This suggests that people are less in pain because they feel more able to think clearly.
The researchers also found that those who used products with higher CBD levels reported excellent sleep quality and pain intensity improvements.
Bryan stated that they plan to conduct a more extensive, randomized, controlled study to test the effect of hemp-derived CBD based on pain in patients.
The 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act makes this type of cannabis legal on the federal level. Researchers can administer it in a randomized study to patients.