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Medical cannabis has been shown to reduce pain and the need for opioid analgesics among cancer patients

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Newswise — A comprehensive evaluation of the benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain found that for most oncologists, pain measures improved significantly, other cancer-related symptoms decreased, analgesic consumption decreased, and side effects were minimal. Posted in Frontiers in pain researchThese findings suggest that medical cannabis can be carefully considered as an alternative to pain relief medications commonly prescribed to cancer patients.

Pain, along with depression, anxiety, and insomnia, is one of the most fundamental causes of oncology patient’s disability and suffering while undergoing therapeutic treatments, and may worsen the prognosis.

“Traditionally, cancer-related pain is treated primarily with opioid analgesics, but most oncologists view opioid therapy as dangerous, so alternative therapies are needed,” explained author David Meri, associate professor at the Technion Institute of Technology.

“Our study is the first to evaluate the potential benefits of medical cannabis for cancer-related pain in patients with oncology; gathering information from the start of treatment, and repeated follow-up over an extended period of time, to obtain a comprehensive analysis of its efficacy.”

The need for alternative treatment

After speaking to many cancer patients, who have been searching for alternative options for pain and symptom relief, the researchers made sure to thoroughly test the potential benefits of medical cannabis.

“We met many cancer patients who asked us if medical treatment for cannabis could benefit their health,” said co-author Gil Bar Sela, associate professor at Haemek Medical Center in Afula. “Our initial review of the current research revealed that in fact little was known regarding its efficacy, particularly in the treatment of cancer-related pain, and from what was known, most results were inconclusive.”

Researchers have recruited certified oncologists who are able to issue a license for medical cannabis to cancer patients. These oncologists referred interested patients to the study and reported on the characteristics of their disease.

Patients completed anonymous questionnaires before starting treatment, and again at several time points over the following six months. We collected data on a number of factors, including pain measures, analgesic consumption, cancer symptom burden, sexual problems, and side effects,” Bar-Sela said.

Symptoms improvement

Analysis of the data revealed that many outcome measures improved, with fewer pain and cancer symptoms. Most importantly, the use of opioids and other pain relievers decreased. In fact, nearly half of the patients studied had discontinued all painkilling medications after six months of drug therapy for cannabis.

“Medical cannabis has been suggested as a potential treatment for anorexia, however, most patients in this study still lost weight. With a significant portion diagnosed as having progressive cancer, weight loss would be expected with disease progression.”

“Interestingly, we found that sexual function improved in most men but worsened in most women.”

Merry would like future studies to delve into the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in different groups of cancer patients.

“Although our study was very comprehensive and provided additional perspectives on medical cannabis, gender, age and race, as well as cancer types and stage of cancer, the diversity of patients in our study was wide. Therefore, future studies should investigate the level of effectiveness of medical cannabis in combinations. Specific subtypes of cancer patients with common characteristics.

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