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Studies support use of medical cannabis in palliative care cancer patients

Patients report better pain relief, symptom management and a reduction in opioid use.

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Studies support use of medical cannabis in palliative care cancer patients

Recent studies support the use of medical cannabis as a palliative care treatment in advanced cancer patients. 

A number of recent studies have found that medical cannabis is effective for pain relief, symptom management and leads to a reduction in opioid use among palliative care cancer patients. 

Researchers at the University Hospital in Syracuse, New York evaluated cancer patients’ use of cannabis for palliative purposes among those enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis registry.

Eighty five per cent reported symptom improvements following their use of cannabis – with nearly half reporting reductions in their pain.

Just under half of subjects also reported decreasing their use of opioid pain medications. 

Very few participants (less than four per cent) experienced adverse effects from their use of medical cannabis products.

The authors concluded: Medical marijuana appears to have an important role in the palliation of symptoms in advanced cancers with few adverse effects although not all patients certified for use, go on to obtain it. 

“There are many remaining barriers to effective use including financial toxicity and end-of-life care, introducing this so late in life that the benefit is limited. More prospective research is needed to optimise delivery and dose.”

Researchers in Thailand also examined the potential of medical cannabis for improving quality of life in cancer patients receiving end-of-life care.

A cross sectional study was carried out from February to September 2021, among patients from the Roi-Et Regional Hospital and Sawang Dandin Crown Prince Hospital in Thailand.

The authors compared quality of life outcomes and symptom management in patients who received standard medical treatment to those who were treated with medical cannabis. 

Results showed that those who received cannabis reported a higher quality of life than those who didn’t.

Cannabis patients also reported improvement in cognitive functioning and breathing symptoms, with patients receiving conventional care reporting higher scores for insomnia symptoms.

The authors concluded that their results “confirm that establishing the efficacy and safety of medical use of cannabis was beneficial for patients.”

Previous studies

The findings echo those of previous studies.

One paper, published earlier this year, concluded that medicinal cannabis can be considered as an alternative to conventional pain relief medicines in cancer patients.

A comprehensive assessment of the benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain, found that for most oncology patients, pain measures improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms also decreased, the consumption of painkillers was reduced, and the side effects were minimal.

Pain, along with depression, anxiety, and insomnia, are some of the most fundamental causes of oncology patient’s disability and suffering while undergoing treatment therapies, and may even lead to worsened prognosis.

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