Medical Cannabis may help Reduce the Need for Opioids in Cancer Patients

Summary: Most cancer patients experience chronic pain. However, managing such pain is challenging, and even opiates fail to help in many instances. In addition, prolonged opioid use may also result in severe adverse effects. A new study suggests that medical cannabis could be a safe and good way to manage cancer pain. It may also help due to its ability to reduce cancer-associated depression, anxiety, and other issues. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in medical cannabis. There is a reason for such an upsurge in interest. CBD or cannabidiol is legal in the US and EU, and even recreational cannabis use is becoming legal in many nations. It means it will become relatively simpler for doctors to use medical cannabis for various health conditions.


One should not confuse medical cannabis with CBD. Medical cannabis is more potent, as it also contains the psychotropic agent THC. It is a full-spectrum cannabis extract. Moreover, medical cannabis is used at a much higher dosage, making it a more potent remedy than CBD. There is a reason for increased interest in using medical cannabis for pain relief in cancer patients. Firstly, most of these patients are living with multiple health issues like pain, depression, anxiety, and other problems, and medical cannabis can help in numerous ways. Secondly, medical cannabis is a relatively safer alternative when compared to prolonged opioid use.


Cancer treatment has improved significantly over the years. However, many cancer patients continue to experience much pain. Hence, doctors are looking for safer treatment options, as prolonged opioid use can harm health significantly. Therefore, doctors are especially interested in alternative treatment options. Doctors have long known that cannabis can be quite good for pain relief. In addition, many cancer patients have used cannabis without a prescription and reported significant benefits. Therefore, researchers felt a need to explore its role in pain management in a well-designed clinical trial.


In the new study, researchers prescribed cannabis to 324 patients. Patients were followed up for six months, and 126 patients finished the study. They reported about an 18% reduction in cancer symptoms after six months of regular medical cannabis use. Of course, these are moderate benefits, nonetheless, clinically and statistically significant1. It is one of the early studies, and therefore these findings are exciting. Here it is vital to understand that researchers in the study were mainly interested in chronic pain. However, in the future, they might also focus on other comorbidities.


Cancer patients often have many health problems like depression, anxiety, sexual disorder, reduced quality of life, disability, insomnia, decreased energy levels, and much more. Hence, treating pain in cancer patients is not enough. That is why doctors are looking for something that may help with multiple health conditions. Studies show that cannabis is quite good for various health conditions, especially compared to opioids or other drugs.Thus, in these ways, these findings are pretty exciting. They show that medical cannabis can be good for pain relief. Moreover, cannabis is good for prolonged use and does not appear to cause the kind of side effects characteristic of opioids and even other painkillers.


Of course, these are early days, and there is a need to explore the role of medical cannabis in cancer patients. For example, medical benefits of  cannabis include reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Cannabis may also be suitable for metabolic health along with opioid addiction treatment to prevent any kind of opioid dependency. Hence, in the future, we can expect clinical studies in cancer patients that focus on pain and other issues like depression, sleep disorders, and more. Therefore, it is pretty likely that medical cannabis can significantly enhance the quality of life of cancer patients.


By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA

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