Medical Cannabis for Cancer Symptoms

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 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 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.

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 the use of pharmaceutical pain medication (analgesics). These medications included "over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants."

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."

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