States with legal medical cannabis programs tend to include cancer patients among those eligible to use the drug. As the thinking goes, cannabis can help cancer patients deal with symptoms like pain, nausea, vomiting, etc. Now there is science to back up that thinking. A study just published in JAMA Oncology confirms that medical marijuana is beneficial to cancer patients.
The study is important not only in support of cannabis to help relieve cancer symptoms, but also as a possible impetus for future research that could lead to the development of cancer-fighting drugs. For now, though, symptom relief is sufficient reason to recommend cannabis to cancer patients.
More About the Study
The study was conducted by researchers at New York’s Weill Cornell Medicine. It was a cross-sectional study looking at data produced from 2012 to 2017. Researchers looked at data relating to nearly 60,000 cases. Here are the types of cases, by the numbers:
- Breast cancer – 38,189 (100% women)
- Colorectal cancer – 12,816 (55.4% men; 44.6% women)
- Lung cancer – 7,190 (48.9% men; 51.1% women).
Researchers looked primarily at how medical cannabis affected opioid use among newly diagnosed patients. In short, they wanted to know if cancer patients could get by with fewer opioid medications by consuming medical cannabis instead. Across the board, they discovered that cannabis use led to fewer opioid days among all three groups.
The Mechanism Is Still Unknown
Despite a growing body of evidence showing that cannabis can help relieve cancer pain, the mechanism behind the pain relief is still unknown. The same is true for other conditions in which cannabis is recommended for pain relief. We know it works. We just do not know how it works.
It has been suggested that THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, binds to pain receptors throughout the body. Such a mechanism would explain why marijuana seems to make patients less aware of their pain rather than completely eliminating it. At any rate, patients report needing fewer opioid medications when using cannabis.
Pain Is the Leading Complaint
It is no surprise to anyone who follows medical cannabis that the cancer pain study revealed what it did. Across the country, millions of people now use medical cannabis. Their leading complaint is pain. In most cases, it is chronic pain. However, medical cannabis is also used to treat cancer pain and acute pain.
Utah became one of the more recent states to add acute pain to their qualifying conditions list in early 2022. According to the operators of Provo’s Deseret Wellness, doctors are able to recommend medical cannabis for acute pain in situations where opioid medications would otherwise be recommended.
A good example would be post-surgical pain relief. A patient wary of potential opioid addiction could consult with their surgeon ahead of time about medical cannabis. If they both agreed that cannabis was a better option, the patient could apply for their medical cannabis card in advance of the surgery. Approval would allow them to use cannabis during recovery.
More Research Is Needed
Getting back to the cancer pain study, its results are incredibly promising. Positive results among 60,000 patients is pretty impressive. But as with all things of this nature, more research is needed. Detailed clinical studies that measure pain relief in real time should confirm what the Weill Cornell Medicine researchers learned from their study.
For now, the data seems to confirm that medical cannabis does benefit cancer patients complaining of pain. It gives them another option for pain relief should they not want to take opioids. That is definitely a good thing.