Cannabis DOES relieve pain, says new Cancer Study.

Liz Filmer
05 May 2023

Medical cannabis may diminish the demand for pain relief in cancer patients, a new study has found. Researchers looked at 358 patients, all taking the drug instead of conventional painkillers, which did not or were no longer fully working for them.

Patients have reported a reduction of over 40 per cent in terms of how much pain affected their day-to-day life.

However promising as it may sound, it must be noted that the study from McGill University in Montreal did not use a comparison between those using medical cannabis and those taking conventional painkillers alone. 

It is also a consideration that the results may also have been partly influenced by the ‘placebo effect’ - where people report an improvement in symptoms because they expect a treatment to work. 

Regarding the form of ingestion, under the trial, most participants were using cannabis oil, and 13 per cent were smoking it. The study found that people using cannabis were able to reduce their use of opioids. Opioids are linked to side effects, including nausea and vomiting. In comparison, the most common side effects experienced by the participants using medical cannabis were drowsiness, fatigue, and dry mouth.

“This study showed medical cannabis was both safe, effective and could help people reduce their use of conventional painkillers.” - Dr Antonio Vigano, McGill University in Canada.

Currently, licensed form medical cannabis products in the UK consist of the following:

Epidyolex: used for three types of childhood epilepsy. 

Sativex: is used for muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis. Nabilone: can be prescribed to adult cancer patients to reduce nausea and vomiting, but only when conventional medicines do not work. 

The patients involved in the study were mainly taking opioids and other drugs, including anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsant medications. 

Despite these results, other studies have found that medical cannabis does not reduce the use of opioids by cancer patients. Researchers also warn that the effectiveness of medical cannabis products can vary if the dosage and type are not matched to the patient using them. There is also a chance that patients may also suffer more side effects when not closely monitored by doctors, as was the case during the study.

Over 50% of patients undergoing cancer treatment and two-thirds of those with advanced or terminal disease experience pain as a symptom.

UK medical watchdog, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has previously recommended trials to establish if medical cannabis can help cancer patients with pain, reduce their use of opioids and allow them the independence to live at home rather than a hospital. 

However, when they published their guidelines on medical cannabis products in 2019, they concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that cannabis could effectively treat cancer-related pain. 

Liz Filmer