Cannabis Is Effective At Alleviating Cancer Pain, New Study Suggests

An extensive new study focusing on medicinal cannabis to treat cancer-related symptoms has found that most oncology patients experienced a significant improvement in pain, along with other cancer-related symptoms, as well as a reduction in opioid use. 

The quality-of-life issues people living with cancer have to deal with are momentous, but this recent study has also found that using cannabis can positively affect patients’ mood, alleviate depression, and provide relief from anxiety – with side effects at a minimum. 

Author of the study and assistant professor at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, David Meiri, said: 

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

The study 

From January 2019 to September 2021, Israeli-based researchers coordinated the use of cannabis in a group of more than 320 oncology patients who were also eligible to consume medicinal cannabis in Israel. 

Researchers accumulated data on pain measures, cancer symptom burden, opioid consumption, sexual problems, and possible side effects from cannabis. 

Patients also reported on multiple other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Certified oncologists were recruited by researchers and they were able to issue a medical cannabis license to their cancer patients and referred interested patients to the study. 

Co-author and associate professor at the Ha’Emek Medical Center Afula, Gil Bar-Sela, said:

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

“We encountered numerous cancer patients who asked us whether medical cannabis treatment can benefit their health. 

“Our initial review of existing research revealed that actually 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 findings 

Data suggests that overall cancer pain decreased for patients using cannabis between the start of the study up to the six-month mark. And what’s more, almost half of the patients stopped all opioid medication following six months of cannabis treatment. 

These findings show that medicinal cannabis should be seriously considered as an alternative pain-relief treatment to medicines that are usually given to cancer patients. 

However, one study doesn’t solidfy the impact cannabis has on oncology patients, and more studies are necessary to better understand the full effects. 

But, for patients struggling with their opioids and other pain-relieving medications, this latest study suggests that cannabis may be a credible source of pain relief for people fighting against cancer. 

Author David Meiri wants to delve deeper with more research, saying:

“Although our study was very 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. 

“Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in specific subgroups of cancer patients with more shared characteristics.” 

The demand for alternative treatments 

Pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia are just a handful of problems an oncology patient has to tend with during their illness, along with undergoing a significant amount of treeatment therapies.  

Cancer pain is complex and profound, so traditionally opioids have been perceived as the most adequate form of treatment.  

But as David Meiri suggests, over emphasis on opioid treatments can also carry a significant amount of risk to patients and could lead to a worsened prognosis, opioid abuse, misuse, or dependency. 

Opioids may also amplify a cancer patient’s associated symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. 

“Traditionally, cancer-related pain is mainly treated by opioid analgesics, but most oncologists perceive opioid treatment as hazardous, so alternative therapies are required.” Meiri explained. 

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