Medicinal cannabis ‘can ease cancer pain and reduce need for drugs’

On the NHS, only specialist hospital doctors can currently prescribe medicinal cannabis

Eleanor Noyce
Wednesday 03 May 2023 06:59 BST
Bowelbabe cancer research fund set up by Deborah James raises over £11 million

Medicinal cannabis can ease cancer pain and reduce the need for drugs, new research suggests.

The study concluded that medicinal cannabis is a “safe and effective complementary treatment for pain relief in patients with cancer”, identifying products with an equal balance of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) as the most effective for pain relief.

Medicinal cannabis can ease cancer pain, new research has found (PA)

On the NHS, only specialist doctors can currently prescribe cannabis-based medicines. However, these drugs are typically only considered if other treatments have been deemed unsuitable or if they’ve been ineffective in relieving symptoms, sometimes used to treat severe epilepsy, vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy or muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis.

The research – conducted by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons Dublin and Cedars Cancer Centre in Canada – notes that 38 per cent of all patients with cancer experience moderate to severe pain. Meanwhile, 66 per cent of patients with advanced, metastatic or terminal disease suffer pain.

Conducted over three and a half years, the study surveyed 358 adults with cancer. With an average age of 57, 48 per cent of these patients were men. The most common cancer diagnoses were genitourinary, breast and bowel.

Approximately one-quarter of the participants were prescribed THC-dominant products, 17 per cent CBD-dominant products, and 38 per cent a balance of the two. At three, six and nine months, patients experienced a significant reduction in pain, monitored as overall pain severity, average pain intensity and overall interference with everyday life.

Pain was the most commonly reported symptom that triggered a prescription of medicinal cannabis, at 78 per cent.

Overall, the products were tolerated well by participants, with the two most common side effects reported to be sleepiness and fatigue. However, these were only reported by three and two patients respectively.

The number of drugs taken also fell throughout the study, with the researchers concluding medicinal cannabis to be a “safe”, “complementary” option.

“The particularly good safety profile of [medicinal cannabis] found in this study can be partly attributed to the close supervision by healthcare professionals who authorised, directed, and monitored [the] treatment,” the researchers wrote.

“Our data suggest 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.”

Meanwhile, a new clinical trial of an oral spray containing cannabinoids has opened at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. Assessing how the spray treats recurrent glioblastoma when combined with chemotherapy, it will recruit more than 230 patients across 14 hospitals.

Funded by the Brain Tumour Charity, NHS hospitals including Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton are to take part in the trial.

A particularly aggressive form of brain tumour, glioblastoma has an average survival time of between 12 and 18 months. Only 5 per cent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis, and each year, approximately 3,200 people are diagnosed across the UK.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in