Can cannabis increase the lifespan of cancer patients? The National Cancer Institute has reported unique findings that indicate the prominent cannabinoids CBD and THC might offer hope of longer survival times for some cancer patients. The PDQ Integrative, Alternative and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board originally published this cutting edge research from the United Kingdom.
Clinical Studies on Cannabis and Cancer
Clinical studies on cannabis and cancer are limited, but one 2021 British study focused on a group of 27 patients with glioblastoma multiforme. This rare form of terminal cancer attacks the brain and spinal cord, and comes with a grim prognosis: survival rate of less than 24 months in the majority of patients.
In this study, 27 patients suffering from glioblastoma multiforme were given nabiximols, a cannabinoid-based spray known as Sativex in the United States. Nabiximols or Sativex sprays are generally administered sublingually (under the tongue). Previous clinical trials on Sativex have considered the oromucosal spray for its ability to relieve persistent pain in advanced cancer patients. Furthermore, Sativex has shown in other studies to reduce pain and muscle spasms related to diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Patients in the UK cancer study received doses of nabiximols with a ratio of 1:1 CBD to THC. Both safety and tolerability were observed in the study.
The results of the 12-month study are striking. After one year, more than 80% of the cannabis consumers were alive, juxtaposed with just 44% of patients on a placebo. For context, two years is considered an extended survival time for patients with highly aggressive glioblastoma multiforme.
Further Research on Cannabis and Cancer
This new information on glioblastoma multiforme patients adds to a growing body of literature on the benefits of cannabis for cancer. The 2021 study stands out as a clinical trial on humans, but there have been other animal studies that have yielded similar encouraging results. Extensive research conducted on mice has shown that cannabinoids like CBD may have anti-tumor properties, including the ability to inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumors.
These animal models could offer hope but do not necessarily translate into comparable results for people. Here are some of the key findings from clinical trials conducted on humans.
Cannabis for Vomiting
Dronabinol received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985 for its ability to quell nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Since the 1980s, various clinical trials have continued to demonstrate this synthetically-derived cannabis medicine’s efficacy. Under the brand name Marinol, this prescription medication appears to be well-tolerated with minor side effects like dizziness and drowsiness. As dronabinol treats nausea, it may also work to stimulate appetite in patients who otherwise would have difficulty consuming adequate calories.
Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain
Nausea and vomiting are not the only symptoms that dronabinol may treat. Cancer patients enduring neuropathic pain (stemming from damage to the nervous system) may safely take dronabinol long-term. Neuropathic pain is likely to be present in glioblastoma patients, along with those ailing from other types of cancer.
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Cannabis for Other Symptoms Associated with Cancer
Cancer patients may experience a spectrum of symptoms, depending on their dosage of chemotherapy and which stage of disease is present. One Israeli study involving 2,970 cancer patients revealed that a majority of people gained relief from numerous symptoms. Among the most commonly improved symptoms in this study were sleep disorders (87%), anxiety and depression (82%), and headache (81%).
Another Israeli study considered the symptoms of pediatric cancer patients. Fifty children were prescribed different forms of cannabis over an 8-year period. Oral oil drops were most commonly administered, followed by vaporized cannabis for some of the older children. Interviews with the children and their parents uncovered that cannabis reduced short-term cancer side effects in approximately 80% of the participants.
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In addition, isolated cannabinoids including CBD and THC have demonstrated therapeutic potential in cancer patients. In particular, oral THC has been promising with regard to multiple symptoms, including cancer-related weight loss.
Cannabis as a Primary Cancer Treatment
While cannabis is sometimes used as a supplemental treatment for cancer, it is less often prescribed as a primary treatment. Few studies exist on the use of cannabis as a direct treatment option for cancer, with the exception of the British clinical trial on glioblastoma multiforme patients. Results from this study are current as of June 2021, and it could be enlightening to learn the outcomes of patients at the two-year milestone.
Can Cannabis Help Cancer Patients Live Longer?
Based on the results of the clinical trial reported in 2021, it is possible that cannabis can help certain cancer patients live longer. However, the sample size of this clinical study was small (27) and patients had been diagnosed with a specific type of aggressive brain and spinal cord cancer (glioblastoma multiforme). Therefore, we cannot assert from this study that THC extends the lives of patients diagnosed with any other type of cancer.
Further research with larger sample sizes and targeting different forms of cancer is necessary. For now, the results of the UK study are encouraging and pave the way for future research on the benefits of cannabis for cancer patients.
A cannabis physician can help you navigate many diagnoses, including cancer. Connect with a qualified doctor and apply for a medical marijuana card through Leafwell today.