Cannabis can treat cancer pain more effectively than painkillers, says new study

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulMay 04, 2023 | 12:36

Cannabis can treat cancer pain more effectively than painkillers, says new study

A recent study has found that medicinal cannabis can be a safe and effective way of relieving cancer pain, as well as reducing the amount of other drugs required.


  • The study, published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, analysed 358 cancer patients and concluded that cannabis is a "safe and effective complementary treatment for pain relief in patients with cancer." 
  • It turns out that a balanced mixture of THC and CBD is the way to go, as products with an equal balance of the active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) were found to be the most effective for pain.

The study found that, alongside other drugs, cannabis was a safe option for managing pain.

To help control a person’s pain, a doctor may prescribe acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids or other drugs. Opioids are used for controlling more severe pain, but they have a number of side effects, such as nausea, drowsiness and constipation.

  • But here's the kicker: even with opioid medications available, research shows that about one in four people with cancer-related pain still do not receive adequate treatment for the intensity of their pain. That's where cannabis comes in.
  • Many people with cancer seek out alternative ways to control their pain, including cannabis.

The study analysed 358 adults with cancer over a period of 3.5 years, using data from the Quebec Cannabis Registry in Canada.

The average age of the patients was 58, and over half were female. The most common cancer diagnoses were genitourinary, breast, colorectal, lung and blood-related.

  • Over 72% of patients reported having pain symptoms, with a small number of people reporting nausea, anxiety, insomnia or other symptoms.
  • Patients were authorised a range of cannabis products - 25% used THC-dominant products, 38% used THC:CBD-balanced products, and 17% used CBD-dominant products. Over half of patients took the product by mouth.

A safe and complementary option for cancer patients

Patients’ pain symptoms decreased over the year-long follow-up, researchers found. This included worst and average pain intensity, overall pain severity and a measure of how much the pain interfered with daily life. Products that had a balance of THC and CBD were associated with stronger pain relief compared to THC-dominant or CBD-dominant products.

The study concluded that cannabis could be a safe and complementary treatment option for cancer patients who fail to reach adequate pain relief through conventional analgesics, such as opioids. 

So, is it time to bring out the bongs?

Well, not quite.

  • While cannabis may be a safer and more effective option, it's still not available to everyone.
  • Unfortunately, cannabis-based medicines are currently only prescribed by specialist hospital doctors for a limited number of conditions.

It's not just cancer patients seeking pain relief who could benefit - a clinical trial is currently underway to investigate whether combining a cannabis medicine with chemotherapy can help extend the lives of people diagnosed with the most aggressive type of brain tumour.

  • The trial investigating whether combining nabiximols (a cannabis medicine) and chemotherapy in the form of an oral spray to treat people diagnosed with recurrent glioblastoma, has opened at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, UK. 

So, for cancer patients who fail to find relief through conventional drugs, cannabis could be a safe and complementary treatment option. It's ‘high’ time we started exploring alternative treatment options, it seems.

Last updated: May 04, 2023 | 12:36
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