Study Summary: Medical Cannabis for Cancer Patients

Updated: Oct 3

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A 2022 peer-reviewed research study entitled "Experience With Medical Marijuana for Cancer Patients in the Palliative Setting" that was published in the journal Cureus investigated the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment option for advanced cancer patients.


Palliative care is defined as "alleviating the symptoms of a disease or disorder, especially one that is terminal, when a cure is not available."

"The goals of this study were to review the characteristics of patients who received medical marijuana under our ambulatory palliative care program and to determine barriers to access and use of medical marijuana in this population," reported the study.


The research reported that medical cannabis "is a supportive agent for multiple indications, including HIV and cancer" and that, in patients with cancer, "medical marijuana may improve nausea, vomiting, pain, and anti-tumor activity."


The Study

The design of this study was that of a retrospective analysis of 184 patients featuring a median age of 60 "who were enrolled in the medical marijuana registry through the ambulatory palliative care department at Upstate Cancer Center." At the end of the three-year study period, 98 of the patients (53 percent) remained alive.

The study analyzed data from June 2017 to June 2020. Participants all featured a diagnosis of cancer, were certified by a licensed medical practitioner in the New York Medical Marijuana Program, and received care at Upstate Medical University in New York. The cohort (collection of study subjects) population featured 93 subjects (52 percent) who "received at least one prescription from a New York licensed marijuana dispensary." Seventy-two of the study participants (39 percent) were certified [for cannabis], but never obtained medical cannabis (for a variety of reasons, chief among them being death).


Results

Of the study participants who had at least one dose of medical cannabis, "48 percent experienced an improvement in pain, 45 percent used fewer opioids, and 85 percent had an improvement in at least one symptom." The study's authors reported that adverse effects from the consumption of cannabis resulted in only four percent of participants.


The study noted that "many patients could not afford the high cost of medical marijuana, and it usually costs significantly more than 'street' marijuana."

"The adverse effect breakdown included mild toxicity (five patients), financial (five patients), specific product intolerance (three patients), and severe toxicity (one patient)," reported the study. It noted that "mild toxicities" included headaches, discomfort, and dizziness.


Financial Challenges & Anxiety

The study noted that "many patients could not afford the high cost of medical marijuana, and it usually costs significantly more than 'street' marijuana." It found that many cancer patient participants "may be using medical marijuana as a multi-symptom solution, even outside cancer symptoms, for symptoms like anxiety and sleep disorders."


The review noted a "dose-dependent relationship on improvement of symptoms," implying that dosage is a critical factor for patients and their caregivers who are seeking maximum efficacy from their treatment therapies. The researchers noted that the avenue of consumption also influenced the efficacy of any dose. "Further studies are necessary to validate dose dependency for symptoms, especially pain and narcotic use," reported the scientists.

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The study surmised that the data it analyzed "adds to what is known about the nature of medical marijuana use among cancer patients" and that medical cannabis "does help cancer patients" and features "a low risk of adverse effects."


Conclusions

The study summarized that medical cannabis may play an "important role in the palliation of symptoms in advanced cancers" and that it delivers "few adverse effects." It also noted that "the financial burden of medical marijuana could be quite high, especially if [strong] therapeutic doses are needed for pain relief."


The scientists concluded that "there is quite a bit of enthusiasm in the palliative community to use medical marijuana."

The scientists concluded that "there is quite a bit of enthusiasm in the palliative community to use medical marijuana" and that additional study data "will help clarify the risks and benefits of medical marijuana for cancer patients."


View the original study.


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