Medicinal cannabis helps relieve cancer pain and can complement other painkilling drugs, research has suggested.
A study of 358 adults with cancer found 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.
Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, and the Medical Cannabis Programme in Oncology at Cedars Cancer Centre in Canada, concluded that medicinal cannabis is “a safe and effective complementary treatment for pain relief in patients with cancer”.
Currently, only specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis-based medicines on the NHS, and only for a few limited conditions such as rare and severe epilepsy.
As of April, fewer than five people have received an NHS prescription, forcing many people to go private or buy drugs illegally.
Existing evidence suggests that around 38% of all patients with cancer experience moderate to severe pain, while 66% with advanced, metastatic or terminal diseases suffer pain.
Of those studied, around a quarter took THC-dominant products, 38% took THC:CBD-balanced drugs and 17% took CBD-dominant products.
Patient pain intensity, symptoms, total number of drugs taken and daily morphine consumption were then closely monitored by healthcare professionals, quarterly for a year.
At three, six and nine months, THC:CBD-balanced products were associated with the best pain relief.
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“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,” researchers said.
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.
Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, families have since urged the government and Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, to fund more research.