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Cannabis-based drug may offer “new hope” for brain tumour patients – study



The research was developed by scientists at the University of Leeds

An early UK trial suggests that cannabis-based drug Sativex, used alongside chemotherapy, could improve life-expectancy in patients with severe brain cancer.

An oral spray containing cannabis-derived chemical extracts is well tolerated and may extend life-expectancy in patients with recurrent glioblastoma, when used in combination with chemotherapy.

In a new phase 1b trial, researchers led by Professor Susan Short at the University of Leeds assessed the safety and potential effectiveness of adding the cannabis-based drug Sativex to temozolomide, for patients with a newly recurrent glioblastoma (GBM).

While the study observed better one-year survival in the group receiving Sativex, the researchers caution that a larger, randomised trial is needed to assess whether adding Sativex to temozolomide could offer additional life-extension.

The study also showed that Sativex did not appear to interfere with temozolomide treatment.

Sativex – also known as nabiximols – is a complex botanical formulation containing cannabinoids THC and CBD, alongside other components.

It is currently licensed and used in treating muscle stiffness and spasms in certain people with multiple sclerosis.

In the first part of the study, six patients received a personalised regime of Sativex of up to 12 sprays per day, alongside their temozolomide therapy – and the side-effects were recorded and reviewed.

The most common side-effects reported were fatigue, headache, vomiting and nausea, which were mostly classed as being mild-moderate in severity.

In the second part of the study, 21 patients randomly received either Sativex with temozolomide (12 patients) or placebo with temozolomide (9 patients) for a total duration of 12 months.

Ten out of 12 (83.3 percent) of the patients receiving Sativex were still alive after one year, compared to four out of nine (44.4 percent) patients who were given a placebo.

However, two patients in the placebo arm died within 40 days of enrolling and the researchers caution that these patients may have been predisposed to a shorter survival due to features of their tumour, which could skew the comparison.

The findings come as The Brain Tumour Charity has launched a grant round with a view to funding a phase II/III multi-centre placebo-controlled clinical trial of cannabinoids in the treatment of high-grade gliomas later this year.

The charity has welcomed the developments and called for urgent further research into the potential of cannabinoids to provide new treatments and “new hope” for patients.

“These are really promising findings and we now urgently need to see a larger clinical trial to understand whether adding cannabinoids to chemotherapy could offer precious extra time to live for people living with a glioblastoma,” commented Sarah Lindsell, CEO at The Brain Tumour Charity.

“With so few options available, thousands affected by a glioblastoma in the UK each year are in urgent need of new treatments, and of new hope.

“It’s fantastic to see that Sativex could be well-tolerated alongside temozolomide, and that this combination is showing promise in potentially improving outcomes.”

Lindsell added: “We know there is significant interest among our community about the potential activity of cannabinoids in helping relieve symptoms and as a treatment, and we need to do all we can to accelerate these answers and to drive progress.

“A cure really can’t wait – and we are really excited to be launching an exceptional grant round to fund a major clinical trial in the UK later this year to fully understand the potential of cannabinoids.”

The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC).

In an accompanying editorial, leading UK experts argue the findings “warrant urgent exploration of the combination of temozolomide and nabiximols in a sufficiently powered larger study” alongside research to identify any biomarkers that could help predict their effectiveness for individuals.

The BJC editorial, by Dr Gary Doherty at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and Dr Bruno de Paula at the University of Cambridge, also cautions against the use of off-label nabiximols or other cannabinoid products in patients with GBM until sufficient high-quality evidence supports their use, particularly given the significant side-effect profile.

The Brain Tumour Charity recommends that any supplements, alternative or complementary treatments that patients wish to use are discussed with their medical team.

Anyone affected by a glioblastoma can speak to the charity on 0808 800 0004 or by emailing

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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