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Cancer survivors turn to cannabis for physical and mental health – study

Cancer survivors are more likely to use cannabis to help pain, anxiety, sleep and nausea. 

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Cancer survivors are more likely to use cannabis to help pain, anxiety, sleep and nausea. 

Cancer survivors are frequently using cannabis to manage physical and mental health symptoms, says a new study.

Research from the US indicates that cancer survivors are more likely to use cannabis for symptoms such as pain, anxiety, trouble sleeping and nausea. 

A team of investigators analysed results from a Covid-19 cannabis health study to examine changes to cannabis use, methods of cannabis delivery, and coping strategies among cancer survivors since the pandemic.

They found that individuals with a history of cancer are more likely to report cannabis use to manage mental health and pain symptoms.

This group of people were also more likely to report fear of a Covid-19 diagnosis, compared to adults without a history of cancer.

Data was collected from 158 responses between 21 March 2020 and 23 March 2021, from cancer survivors who identified as medicinal cannabis users.

These were then compared to medicinal cannabis users without a history of cancer of the same age.

According to the study, cancer survivors were more likely to report using cannabis as a way of managing nausea/vomiting, headaches or migraines, seizures, sleep problems or as an appetite stimulant.

Specifically, self-reported symptoms most frequently managed by medicinal cannabis among respondents included anxiety and pain. 

Sixty one percent of respondents with a history of cancer used cannabis to manage anxiety symptoms and 54 percent for chronic pain.

Forty eight percent said they used it to manage depressive symptoms and 25 percent for PTSD, while smaller numbers used it for symptoms of another autoimmune disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

While there were no differences in how often they used cannabis or their method of administration, cancer survivors were “more likely to have an advanced supply of cannabis”. 

The findings support the need for more conversations between doctors and their patients about the use of cannabis, say those behind the study.

The authors concluded: “Overall, we observed that cancer survivors are frequently reporting the use of cannabis to manage both physical and mental health symptoms associated with their cancer diagnosis and that cancer survivors are more likely to report fear of a Covid-19 diagnosis compared to those without a history of cancer. 

“Given the frequency of mental and physical health symptoms reported among cancer survivors during the Covid-19 pandemic period, clinician–patient interactions should include questions around cannabis use, particularly those with a history of cancer.”

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Mental health

Could the endocannabinoid system and CBD help with treating SAD?

A new study examines the role that the endocannabinoid system may play in regulating our moods such as stress, happiness and anxiety

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Endocannabinoid: A woman with her head in her hands wearing a blue top against a blue background. The background has white lines to highlight anxiety

A paper in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry has examined the potential of the endocannabinoid system to play a part in treating SADs. 

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychiatric disorder. People with SAD have an excessive fear or anxiety of social situations where they worry their behaviour may cause embarrassment, humiliation or rejection by others. This could be related to performance situations such as public speaking but may also be starting a conversation or socialising at an event. This may cause people to avoid attending events, work or relationships.

The NHS currently lists cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressant medication as options for treatment with SAD.

Hormone production

The researchers reviewed existing scans of the brain to see if hormone imbalances could be the reason for the development of SAD. They examined dopamine which is responsible for how we feel pleasure, serotonin which stabilises our moods and the stress hormone cortisol. 

They wrote: “The monoamine hypothesis and pharmacological approaches suggest that the neurobiologies of depression and anxiety share imbalances in the monoaminergic neurotransmission system.41 In this regard, neuro-molecular positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) studies in SAD have largely focused on imaging serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission, based on the reported efficacy of antidepressants.”

Evidence

The authors wrote: “Emerging evidence suggests that the endogenous cannabinoid system, also referred to as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), could play a potential role in the pathophysiology of SAD. This review discusses the known pathophysiological mechanisms of SAD, the potential role of the ECS in this disorder, current drugs targeting the ECS, and the potential of these novel compounds to enhance the therapeutic armamentarium for SAD.”

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The researchers concluded that the ECS could be a potential biological pathway in the treatment of SAD and is a promising avenue for developing more therapeutic approaches. They highlighted that there is a lack of human ECS studies or clinical trials which allow for ‘significant gaps in our knowledge.’  

Endocannabinoid system:  Cannabis leaf and a bottle of green hemp oil on a wooden surface

Could CBD help?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. These receptors can be found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to send a signal that the ECS needs to do something. 

The main receptors are CB1 found in the central nervous system and CB2 in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor and produce effects depending on where the receptor is located and which one it binds to.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to CB1 or CB2 receptors while it is thought that potentially CBD can influence the receptors. Researchers aren’t sure how it interacts exactly.

A study explored the potential effects of CBD on people with SAD. Participants were given 400 mg of CBD or a placebo. Those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those given the placebo.

Another study on anxiety and sleep also revealed the potential of CBD to help stabilise our moods. The study involved 72 patients with 47 primarily experiencing anxiety and 25 suffering from poor quality sleep. Each person was given 25 milligrams of CBD each day and the majority of participants at 79.2 percent recorded they had lower anxiety while 66.7 percent reported better sleep after just the first month.

However, there is more research needed on both the endocannabinoid system and how CBD interacts with it to help treat SAD.

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Read more: Can CBD help me sleep?

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One in five autism caregivers give their child CBD products

A new report by reveals that the majority of parents started using oils during the pandemic for older children.

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Autism: A collection of clear glass and brown tincture bottles together on a wooden surface next to a balm that has a cannabis leaf on it.

A study by Autism Parenting Magazine revealed that almost 20 percent of people caring for an autistic child give them CBD products.

The autism parenting survey was sent to 160,000 subscribers around the world revealing the extent of CBD use by parents caring for an autistic child. 18.6 percent of respondents confirmed they use CBD for a child on the spectrum to relieve a variety of their symptoms. This was further broken down to 22.16 percent of US parents compared to 14.29 percent of UK families.

It is estimated that there are 700,000 people in the UK with a diagnosis of autism. This is equal to one in 100 children in the UK.

The new survey also revealed that 31.3 percent of those using CBD products started during the Covid-19 pandemic. A further 16.6 percent revealed they have increased the amount since the pandemic began. The reason for this was thought to be down to increased anxiety and panic.

The data showed 76.3 percent CBD only use while the remaining 10 percent used other forms such as hemp, CD/THC and Epidiolex or CBD with terpenes.

The majority of those who responded were parents at 72.4 percent but there were also grandparents, careers, teachers, therapists, doctors or individuals on the spectrum.

Autism symptom relief

The survey revealed that the primary use for CBD was anxiety relief at 42.9 percent or challenging behaviour at 36.9 percent. The rest stated pain relief, inflammation, sleep or relaxation. A small number of parents, 4.3 percent, said seizures. Other reasons were given as speech or supporting potty training.

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The survey also asked how much support the parents felt their child needed with 42.9 percent stating ‘requires substantial support.’ A small number at 17.9 percent said very substantial support. CBD use tended to be daily in the form of oils.

Oils were a favourite amongst parents with 60.8 percent opting to use this method. Other popular methods included 21.5 percent using gummies, 7.5 percent consuming capsules or tablets. A few used lotions or balms while 1.9 percent used vapes.

A large number of participants used CBD for their teenagers with 21.39 percent confirming their child was aged 13 to 18.

Autism therapies

Only a small number of parents were combining the CBD with therapies at 7.4 percent. The therapy was listed as Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy). ABA therapy considers a person’s understanding of how behaviour works in real situations. The aim of therapy is to increase helpful and decrease unhelpful behaviours that could be harmful or affect learning. ABA is being used increasingly in the UK.

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