Medical cannabis could be “safe and complementary” treatment option

4 min read
Medicinal cannabis helps relieve cancer pain and can cut down how many drugs people need, research suggests.

A new study published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care found that products with an equal balance of the active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) seemed to be the most effective for pain.

Currently only specialist hospital doctors can prescribe cannabis-based medicines on the NHS, and only for a few limited conditions such as rare and severe epilepsy, vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy and muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers studied 358 adults with cancer over a period of three-and-a-half years. Around a quarter of patients took THC-dominant products in the study, 38% took THC:CBD-balanced drugs and 17% took CBD-dominant products. Patient pain intensity, symptoms, total number of drugs taken and daily morphine consumption were then monitored quarterly for a year.

The study found that at three, six and nine months, there were statistically significant drops in worst and average pain intensity, overall pain severity, and pain interference with daily life. Researchers concluded the data suggests a role for medicinal cannabis as “a safe and complementary treatment option in patients with cancer failing to reach adequate pain relief through conventional analgesics, such as opioids.”

It comes as a clinical trial of an oral spray containing cannabinoids to treat glioblastoma (GBM) – the most common type of primary high-grade brain tumour in adults – has opened at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

The trial, funded by The Brain Tumour Charity, will investigate whether combining nabiximols (a cannabis medicine) and chemotherapy can help extend the lives of people diagnosed with recurrent GBM. It will recruit more than 230 GBM patients at 14 NHS hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales in 2023.

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “We are delighted to see this clinical trial launch. Congratulations to The Brain Tumour Charity for funding this much-needed study. As highlighted in the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours Inquiry report, Pathway to a Cure – breaking down the barriers, there are a limited number of clinical trials available for brain tumour patients with only 5% of patients accessing them. Very few treatment options exist for GBM patients and we look forward to the results of this trial to see whether cannabinoid-based drugs can treat the most aggressive form of brain tumour.”


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