The use of medicinal cannabis as a complementary treatment for cancer patients has gained significant attention in recent years.  

In light of this, a recent study conducted by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the Medical Cannabis Programme in Oncology at Cedars Cancer Centre in Canada has provided important insights into the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis as a pain relief treatment for patients with cancer. 

A study of 358 adults with cancer indicated that medicinal cannabis was a “safe and effective complementary treatment for pain relief in these patients.” Specifically, that an equal balance of active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), significantly helped pain intensity and the interference of pain in daily life. 

THC is the substance in cannabis that is primarily responsible for producing the ‘high’ sensation. 

Of those studied, around a quarter took THC-dominant products, 38% took THC:CBD-balanced drugs and 17% took CBD-dominant products. 

These findings are significant, as they provide evidence for the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of cancer-related pain; a common symptom experienced by patients with cancer, and it can significantly impact their quality of life.   

Presently, only specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis-based medicines on the NHS, and only for a few limited conditions such as rare and severe epilepsy. 

However, the use of opioids, which are commonly prescribed for cancer-breakthrough pain relief, can lead to several adverse effects, including addiction and respiratory depression. Medicinal cannabis, on the other hand, has been shown to have fewer adverse effects and can potentially offer a safer alternative for pain relief. 

Despite the promising findings of the study, it is important to note that further research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis as a complementary treatment for cancer-related pain.  

The results come as a clinical trial of an oral spray containing cannabis, to treat the most aggressive type of brain tumour – glioblastoma – has opened at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. 

While the recent study by researchers provides important insights into the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis treatment management, the findings support the need for further research in this area and highlight the potential for medicinal cannabis to offer a safer alternative for pain relief in cancer patients.

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