Study shows greater likelihood of favouring higher-THC medical cannabis to relieve cancer-related symptoms
People with and without cancer were more likely, over time, to use a more potent form of medical cannabis with increasingly higher amounts of THC, notes a report published this week in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.
Over the course of the two-year study, “all types of patients increased their THC dose by approximately 0.20 mg per week,” yielding a corresponding increase in the THC:CBD daily ratio. “Compared with non-cancer patients, these trends were not different in the cancer group for THC daily dose, but there were less pronounced increases in the THC:CBD daily ratio over time among cancer patients,” reports the study abstract.
Differences were also identified in the study, Patterns of Medical Cannabis Use among Cancer Patients from a Medical Cannabis Dispensary in New York State. “Our study found some key differences in demographics and medical cannabis product use between patients with cancer (older and more likely to be female) and without cancer,” the abstract points out.
“Cancer patients were more likely to favour forms of medical marijuana with higher amounts of THC, which relieves cancer symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatment, including chronic pain, weight loss and nausea,” notes a press release from NYU Langone Health, an academic medical centre affiliated with New York University.
But non-cancer patients—including those with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis—favoured cannabis formulations that were higher in CBD. CBD “has been shown to reduce seizures and inflammation in other studies,” the statement adds.
Findings are based on analysis of data from 11,590 men and women 18 and older in New York, 17.2 percent of whom had cancer and used at least one cannabis product purchased from the licensed dispensary, Columbia Care LLC., from January 2016 through December 2017. Using data from the dispensary, researchers performed secondary data analysis, “analyzing demographic information, qualifying conditions and symptoms, and the medical cannabis product used, including THC to CBD ratios.”
Overall, findings show “cancer and non-cancer patients used different dosages of cannabis formulations with dramatically different THC:CBD ratios. The two most common formulations contained THC and CBD, but one had 20 times more THC than CBD, whereas the other had the opposite ratio.”
Though study data does not reflect the type of cancer cannabis purchasers had, how much of what they bought was consumed or if the cannabis was used for symptoms unrelated to the cancer, “the patterns of use among cancer patients were distinctly different from those of non-cancer patients,” the statement emphasizes.
The research team also identified preference when it came to how cannabis was consumed. For cancer patients, they were more likely to prefer taking cannabis-containing oil droplets under the tongue than vaping their medicine.
More specifically, “the most common qualifying symptom for both cancer and non-cancer patients was severe or chronic pain,” the study abstract notes. “Cancer patients were more likely to use the sublingual tincture form of cannabis (55.2 percent), while non-cancer patients were more likely to use the vaporization form (44.0 percent),” it adds.
Citing the “scarcity of solid evidence about the benefits, risks and patterns of use of marijuana products in various disease settings,” such information is important for delivering the best care, says Dr. Arum Kim, study lead investigator and director of the supportive oncology program at NYU School of Medicine’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, which funded the study.
“In the absence of strong clinical research data for medical marijuana, identifying patterns of use offers some sense of how to guide patients who come in with questions for using medical marijuana, and what may or may not help them,” notes study senior investigator Dr. Benjamin Han, an assistant professor of medicine and population health at NYU School of Medicine.
The next steps are to “get more detailed information about how medical marijuana affects patient response to therapy and functional status at different stages of their disease, as well as the risks and side effects of treatment,” study authors report.
Additionally, they say, “the profiles of other cannabinoids besides THC and CBD in medical marijuana products warrant further research.”