Study: Cannabis Reduces Cancer Patient Pain, Need For Opioids

A new study presents additional evidence that cannabis may be beneficial in treating cancer-related pain.

The comprehensive assessment, published recently in the Frontiers in Pain Research journal, reports that pain measures improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms decreased, painkiller consumption reduced, and side effects were minimal.

According to the findings, the medical community should consider cannabis as an alternative to currently-prescribed cancer patient medications.

Author David Meiri says treating cancer-related pain usually involves using opioid analgesics, and most oncologists see hazards in such treatments, so alternative therapies are necessary.

Meiri is an assistant professor at Technion Israel Institute of Technology.

“Our study is the first to assess the possible benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in oncology patients,” says Meiri. “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.”

Meeting a Need for Research

Researchers say they were keen to thoroughly test cannabis’ potential medicinal benefits after speaking with cancer patients seeking alternative pain and symptom relief options.

Co-Author Gil Bar-Sela, an associate professor at the Ha-Emek Medical Center Afula, says multiple cancer patients asked about the health benefits of medical cannabis.

Bar-Sela says that after reviewing existing research, they found a lack of information regarding cannabis’ efficacy in treating cancer-related pain.

According to Bar-Sela, what they did find was inconclusive.

The researchers hired certified oncologists to issue medical cannabis licenses to cancer patients.

Researchers say the oncologists also referred patients to the study and reported their disease characteristics.

“Patients completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and again at several time points during the following six months,” says Bar-Sela. “We gathered data on a number of factors, including pain measures, analgesics consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects.”

Analyzing the Data

After analyzing the data, researchers say they found patients decreased opioid and analgesic use and had diminished pain and other cancer-related symptoms.

According to the study authors, nearly half of the patients ceased all analgesic medication use after six months of cannabis treatment.

Meiri says medical cannabis is a suggested possible remedy for appetite loss, but study patients still lost weight as a substantial portion of them had progressive cancer diagnoses.

Patients can usually expect weight decline as the disease progresses.

Meiri also says that sexual function improved for most men but worsened for most women.

Meiri hopes that future researchers dig deeper and examine medical cannabis’ efficacy in different cancer patient groups.

“Although our study was comprehensive and presented additional perspectives on medical cannabis, the sex, age, and ethnicity, as well as cancer types and the stage of the cancer meant the variety of patients in our study was wide-ranging,” says Meiri. “Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more shared characteristics.