Study Summary: Medical Cannabis for Cancer Symptoms

Welcome to Higher Learning LV's Study Summary series. This series reviews and summarizes peer-reviewed research studies and was developed specifically for cannabis industry professionals. These study summaries provide easily digested quick reads for a variety of important issues regarding the commerce and chemistry of legal cannabis.


A 2022 study entitled "The Effectiveness and Safety of Medical Cannabis for Treating Cancer Related Symptoms in Oncology Patients" that was published in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research explored the potential benefits of cannabis use for cancer patients suffering symptoms that include anxiety, decreased quality of life, depression, increased disability, insomnia, negative effects on sexuality, and pain.



The study described medical cannabis as "a promising substitute for opioid-based medication." "However, there is a knowledge gap in the study of cannabis, especially for treating cancer-related pain, and results are controversial," noted the research.


The scientists reported that "few randomized controlled trials [involving humans have]...investigated the effects of cannabinoids on cancer-related pain and...other cancer symptoms." As a consequence, the study reported that this dearth of clinical trial research has led to "a weak recommendation for utilizing cannabinoids for cancer pain treatment."


The study's authors noted that cannabis use does sometimes result in adverse effects for consumers, including drowsiness, memory impairment, nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth.

Potential Adverse Effects

The study's authors noted that cannabis use does sometimes result in adverse effects for consumers, including drowsiness, memory impairment, nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth (xerostomia).


However, they surmised that these adverse effects from cannabinoids "are generally well tolerated by patients and categorized as mild to moderate." The scientists concluded that cannabinoid treatment for the pain resulting from cancer treatment "is generally recognized as safe."


The Study

The participants in this study featured an average age of 64, with ages ranging from 49 to 68. About 60 percent of study subjects were female. Twenty percent of participants had previously consumed cannabis.

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The most common types of diagnosed cancer among the participants were breast cancer (27 percent), colon cancer (10 percent), lung cancer (11 percent), and ovarian cancer (seven percent). About half of the patients had advanced stages of their particular cancer (Stage IV). "Chemotherapy was the most prevalent current treatment protocol," with 55 percent of participants undergoing this treatment.


The Results

The study concluded that the participants experienced an improvement in "all pain measures." It noted that participants who consumed cannabis for the pain resulting from their cancer treatment experienced a reduction of average weekly pain intensity of 20 percent.


Participants who consumed cannabis for the pain resulting from their cancer treatment experienced a reduction of average weekly pain intensity of 20 percent.

However, not all study participants experienced this positive outcome. "While most patients reported some degree of pain...decrease, about 20 percent...reported either no change in their pain intensity...or a pain intensity increase," reported the researchers.


The study also revealed that 40 percent of participants were able to discontinue use of pharmaceutical pain medication (analgesics). These medications included "over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants."

"Almost half of the sample stopped all analgesic medications following six months of medical cannabis treatment," reported the research. "One explanation for this could be that medical cannabis constituted a substitution analgesic."


The study's authors deemed medical cannabis to be "safe for oncology patients" but warned that the "efficacy and clinical relevance" of cannabis for this patient population "may be limited."

Overall, most cancer patients (about 60 percent) "reported a positive effect" from their consumption of cannabis with respect to their cancer pain and other negative symptoms resulting from treatment. The study concluded that its results demonstrated "a mild to modest long-term statistical improvement of all investigated measures, including pain, associated symptoms, and [a] reduction in opioid (and other analgesics) use."


The study's authors deemed medical cannabis to be "safe for oncology patients" but warned that the "efficacy and clinical relevance" of cannabis for this patient population "may be limited."


View the original study.


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