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Study Dubs Pot as “Effective,” Digs Deeper into Epidemiology of Cancer Patients

Study Dubs Pot as “Effective,” Digs Deeper into Epidemiology of Cancer Patients

Dina Al-Shibeeb
A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg July 24, 2010. Picture taken July 24, 2010. (File image via Reuters)

In 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Health provided approvals for medical cannabis to relieve symptoms of cancer patients. However, there was no concise epidemiology of cancer patients receiving the treatment.

Epidemiology is the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations such as cancer, and with detection of the source and cause of epidemics.

However, a study, published online on March 5, in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, dug deeper.

The study provided a large-scale portrait of who used medical cannabis for what cancers, and what benefits they derived during a 6-month period, Medscape Medical News reported.

“We analyzed the data routinely collected as part of the treatment program of 2970 cancer patients treated with medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017,” said researchers of the study.

After six months of follow up, 902 patients (24.9%) died and 682 (18.8%) stopped the treatment.

“Of the remaining, 1211 (60.6%) responded; 95.9% reported an improvement in their condition, 45 patients (3.7%) reported no change and four patients (0.3%) reported deterioration in their medical condition,” the study said.

About 20.7 percent of patients suffered breast cancer, lung 13.6 percent, pancreatic 8.1 percent and colorectal 7.9 percent with 51.2 percent being at stage 4.

“The main symptoms requiring therapy were: sleep problems (78.4%), pain (77.7%, median intensity 8/10), weakness (72.7%), nausea (64.6%) and lack of appetite (48.9%). After six months of follow up, 902 patients (24.9%) died and 682 (18.8%) stopped the treatment,” it said.

The study concluded that:

Cannabis as a palliative treatment for cancer patients seems to be well tolerated, effective and safe option to help patients cope with the malignancy-related symptoms.”

Dr Victor Novack, one of the researchers in the study, told Medscape Medical News:

“We feel that it is absolutely imperative to accelerate the development of the scientific research program [of cannabis] within the paradigm of evidence-based medicine.”

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Dr Novack is a paid member of the Tikun Olam Scientific Advisory Board. Tikun Olam is a company that grows and supplies medical marijuana and is licensed and supervised by the Ministry of Health in Israel, the first of its kind in that country. Tikun Olam started out as a non-profit in 2005.

Reduction in Opioids

The study also observed a reduction in drugs such as opioids to alleviate pain, 

“Opioids were the most prevalent drugs used by participants at the study’s start (344 patients),” it said, however: “Notably, at 6 months, 36% of those patients had stopped taking opioids, and 9.9% had decreased the dose; 51.1% continued to take the same dose, and 1.1% increased the dose.

An additional 32 patients started treatment with opioids during the 6 months of follow-up.”

The researchers were:  Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, Raphael Mechoulam, Violeta Lederman, Mario Hilou, Ori Lencovsky, Oded Betzalel, Liat Shbiro, Victor Novack. 

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