A new study out of the University of California San Francisco suggests that medical marijuana may ease some of the symptoms of endometrial, ovarian, and gynecologic cancers. The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that nearly 90% of cancer patients who smoked marijuana reported an improvement of at least one symptom experienced during chemotherapy.

A new study released in September 2017 found that a large majority of gynecologic cancer patients use cannabis for medicinal purposes, and that a majority of them believe that cannabis helps ease their symptoms. The research, published in the Journal of Gynecologic Oncology, surveyed nearly 2,500 women with gynecologic cancer, and found that more than half of them (59 percent) reported using cannabis in some form. Despite this, many doctors don’t recommend that women with gynecologic cancers use cannabis as a way to relieve their symptoms, citing concerns about the drug’s potential to exacerbate side effects of other medications.

A small U.S. study involving 45 gynecologic cancer patients prescribed medical marijuana (MM) for symptom management found 71 per cent self-reported improvement in at least one symptom.

Investigators considered patients prescribed MM from May 2016 to February 2019 and reviewed the formulation prescribed, usage patterns, length of use, symptom relief and side effects. Patients were given MM for less than a month to 25.4 months, notes the study published on June 24 in Gynecologic Oncology Report.

About 55 per cent of patients were prescribed formulations with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio, inhaled and sublingual formulations were prescribed in more than 70 per cent of women and many patients were prescribed more than one formulation.

These patients “commonly experience nausea, vomiting, pain, anorexia and fatigue related to cancer-directed therapy or to their cancer itself, that may be treated with medical marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids,” authors write.

Specifically, the study notes that 56 per cent of the patients used MM for pain, 47 per cent for nausea/vomiting, 33 per cent for anorexia and 27 per cent for insomnia.

With 89 per cent of the patients receiving chemotherapy and 56 per cent undergoing primary treatment, more than 70 per cent reported improvement in nausea/vomiting compared to 36 per cent who were using it for pain relief.

“In cancer patients with inadequately controlled pain on opioids, the addition of THC:CBD containing compounds and nabiximols improves pain scores compared to placebo in some, but not all studies,” the authors note. Side effects of cannabinoids — which can include somnolence, dizziness, confusion and nausea — must also be considered, they add.


But beyond symptom relief, the study found “minimal therapy-related side effects.” / PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

That said, 71 per cent of the 41 patients remaining in the latest study at follow-up reported that using MM had improved at least one of their symptoms.

Beyond symptom relief, the study found “minimal therapy-related side effects,” with just 15 per cent of patients discontinuing MM due to side effects.

“This data can prove useful for counseling gynecologic cancer patients on the efficacy and side effects of MM,” study authors write. In light of the prevalence of MM use among cancer patients, they note, “improved education of both patients and providers may help increase its utilization for symptom management throughout the disease continuum.”

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “using cannabis, drugs containing cannabinoids or both may help you relax and give you a sense of well-being. But studies on the effectiveness of cannabis have had different results.”

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