Scientists to Test Cannabis Mouth Spray for Brain Tumor Treatment

Stephen Andrews
03 Aug 2021

The trial, which will be the first such study in the world, will take place in the UK.

Cannabis is commonly used to treat cancer symptoms. As a supplement in the therapy for cancer, it helps patients regulate nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. Now for the first scientists test to see if Sativex, along with chemotherapy, can help treat an aggressive type of cancer known as glioblastoma.

Supported by the NHS and other cancer charities, the study will aim to see if the cannabis-based mouth spray can help UK patients with the tumor.  

Glioblastoma is aggressive cancer that begins in cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. It typically forms in the brain but can also appear in the spinal cord. Hard to treat, glioblastoma has an incidence of 3.21 per 100,000 population. Even when doctors use surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, it's a type of cancer that almost always returns. Patients diagnosed with it are usually told they have up to 12 to 18 months to live, with some patients able to survive for just ten months. 

In the new study, UK doctors will combine the spray known as Sativex with chemotherapy medication known as temozolomide to see if the combo can extend how long patients with glioblastoma live. Doctors believe that the drug will augment the effects of chemotherapy and help stop tumor growth. 

In medical treatments, Sativex is already used for Multiple Sclerosis patients. The drug is given to reduce spasticity caused by MS. 

Sativex contains equal amounts of the high-giving cannabis chemical THC as well as the non-intoxicating CBD. In the UK, it's one of only three cannabis-based medicines that NHS doctors can prescribe. 

According to the Guardian, the trial follows an earlier phase one trial study that looked at the safety of administrating Sativex and temozolomide together. This earlier trial involved 27 patients and showed the combo is safe, despite some patients reported side-effects such as tiredness, dizziness, or sickness.

The new trial, which is being coordinated by Cancer Research UK's clinical trials unit at Birmingham University, and has been named the Aristocrat study, will be more extensive, and it will look at both the safety of giving Sativex with chemo and what impact the regime has on the patient's outcome. 

Dr. David Jenkinson, the Brain Tumour Charity’s interim chief executive, told the Guardian that "the recent early-stage findings were really promising and we now look forward to understanding whether adding Sativex to chemotherapy could offer life extension and improved quality of life, which would be a major step forward in our ability to treat this devastating disease."

Jenkinson added: “We know there is significant interest in our community about the potential activity of cannabinoids in treating glioblastomas, and we’re really excited that this world-first trial here in the UK could help to accelerate these answers.”

The initial study suggested that the drug could give some people some extra life. More participants who had Sativex were still alive a year later than those who had a placebo.

Stephen Andrews