Today (Friday 4 February 2022) is World Cancer Day – an international day of awareness and a chance to raise attention, and inspire action on creating a cancer-free future.

We wanted to take a look at how medical cannabis is being used on the frontline to treat both cancer conditions, and cancer related symptoms.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are over 375,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year – that means around 1,000 new diagnoses a day. And while research is still ongoing regarding using medical cannabis for direct treatment of cancer, it’s important to remember the positive effect on the overall wellbeing it can have on patients with cancer related conditions and symptoms.

How can medical cannabis help?

A 2017 study ‘The use of medical cannabis in cancer patients’ found that use of medical cannabis showed improvements in patients overall quality of life and a reduction in pain.

This is because medical cannabis can control the side effects and pain-related symptoms associated with cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, for instance improving sleep and appetite, reducing pain, reducing muscle spasms and helping patients cope with anxiety.

You can read more about how medical cannabis could help cancer related symptoms on our condition page.

Here’s what Farrah Ayob, one of our specialist doctors had to say:

There is currently insufficient evidence to support that cannabis has an anticancer benefit. However, cannabis may be of benefit in the management of cancer pain or cancer related symptoms such as nausea, anxiety, anorexia, fatigue and poor sleep. To date, about 55% of patients undergoing treatment suffers from moderate-severe pain, and 39% in cancer survivors.

Currently, there is weak data to prove efficacy from clinical trials – most studies of cannabinoids in cancer pain population look at THC:CBD oromucosal spray (nabiximol) or THC only oromucosal spray. This does not reflect the other potential medicinal properties of cannabinoids such as terpenes and flavonoids. Other reasons for lack of good quality evidence is that studies were of varying quality; lack of standardized cannabis exposure, small sample sizes and varying patient populations.

There is a need for the conduct of further double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials with large sample sizes in order to establish the optimal dosage and efficacy of different cannabis-based therapies.”

Researching medical cannabis and cancer

Our colleagues over at The Academy of Medical Cannabis recently covered a study, published in the British Journal of Cancer and led by Professor Susan Short that explored using nabiximols cannabinoid oromucosal spray with temozolomide in patients with recurrent glioblastoma.

To break that down, nabiximols is a specific cannabis extract that was approved in 2010 as a botanical drug in the United Kingdom and is prescribed as a mouth (oromucosal) spray, while temozolomide is a type of chemotherapy.

This trial saw a marked survival difference for patients on the combined nabiximols and temozolomide (83% vs 44% for placebo patients) – although the trial sample was too small to be able to confirm a survival benefit – it has proved this research area feasible and they hope to launch a phase 2 clinical trial in the near future.

You can read more about the Phase 1 study over at The Academy of Medical Cannabis.