Medicinal Cannabis Safe and Effective for Pain, Chemo Side Effects, Journal Says

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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The supervised use of medicinal cannabis is safe and effective at relieving pain and reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, an increasing body of research data shows.

In a new feature issue of the European Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers revised the current data on cannabis and derived products in medicine and proposed further research to strengthen the evidence for its use in standard medical practice.

“We feel it is absolutely imperative to not only present the current state of affairs, but also propose the development of the scientific research program within the paradigm of evidence-based medicine,” professor Victor Novack, guest editor of the special issue and a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, said in a press release.

“Our ultimate aim should be to scientifically establish the actual place of medical cannabis derived products in the modern medical arsenal,” he added.

While cannabis has long been used for pain relief and as a sleep aid, among other purposes, research on its effects has been hampered by legal restrictions.

The new issue presents data from two major studies that looked at the use of cannabis in cancer patients and the elderly. It includes a comprehensive overview of the effects of cannabis, as well as regulations, ethics, and practical use.

In the study, “Prospective analysis of safety and efficacy of medical cannabis in large unselected population of patients with cancer,” Novack and colleagues analyzed data from of 2,970 cancer patients who received medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017.

Treatment was administered to help patients overcome sleep problems and relieve pain. Among the 1,211 patients who were still receiving medical cannabis at six months, 96 percent reported an improvement in their condition.

In another study, “Epidemiological characteristics, safety and efficacy of medical cannabis in the elderly,” researchers found that cannabis was safe and effective at relieving pain and was linked to a decrease in the use of other therapeutics, such as opioids.

“Gathering more evidence-based data, including data from double-blind randomized-controlled trials, in this special population is imperative,” researchers wrote.

Professor Donald Abrams, from the University of California San Francisco, wrote an update of a recent review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine called “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.”

The report included 10,000 scientific abstracts and concluded that “there was conclusive or substantial evidence that Cannabis or cannabinoids [the active agents that confer the medical properties of cannabis] are effective for the treatment of pain in adults; chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.”

The report also highlighted the multiple barriers to research in cannabis in the U.S. that hamper evidence for its medical use, with doctors lacking enough understanding to advise treatment dosage and use.

Recognizing this caveat in clinician training, the special issue includes a review that gives practical guidance related to the administration and dosing of medical cannabis.

“This Medical Cannabis special issue covers everything you wanted to know about medical cannabis,” Novack said.

“We hope that it will provide physicians with a contemporary summary of different aspects related to the medical cannabis and guide the choice of an appropriate for the indications where the evidence is sufficient to initiate the treatment. We also hope the articles will facilitate the conversation on the future of medical cannabis research and its accommodation into mainstream medicine,” he said.