Medicinal cannabis proves safe and effective for cancer pain relief, says study

Balanced THC CBD products were the most effective.
Kavita Verma
Medical marijuana buds
Medical marijuana buds


According to a recent multicenter registry study published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, medicinal cannabis is a safe and effective way to relieve cancer pain while reducing dependence on opioids and other drugs. The study included 358 adult cancer patients whose information was submitted to the Quebec Cannabis Registry over 3.5 years.

According to the researchers, medicinal cannabis appeared well-tolerated, as only 15 cases of moderate to severe side effects were reported. Additionally, two serious side effects were unlikely to be associated with medicinal cannabis.

Is cannabis better than traditional drugs? 

Cancer patients in advanced or terminal stages frequently suffer from pain, for which opioids and other medications are commonly prescribed. Nevertheless, many patients continue to experience pain, and the side effects of opioids may include constipation, nausea, respiratory depression, and drowsiness. Therefore, the researchers aimed to assess whether medicinal cannabis could offer a safe and effective alternative for pain relief while reducing the necessity of using other drugs.

According to the study, products with an equal balance of THC and CBD were more effective in relieving cancer pain than those with either THC or CBD dominance. Patients who took the balanced products reported significantly decreased pain intensity and interference with daily activities. 

The total number of medications patients took consistently decreased throughout the 12-month study period, and opioid use decreased during the first three check-ups. While the study was observational and unable to establish causation, the researchers still concluded that medicinal cannabis could be a safe and complementary option for cancer patients who do not find adequate pain relief from traditional analgesics like opioids.

Close healthcare professional supervision is a key factor in safe use

The researchers emphasized that the positive safety profile observed in this study regarding medicinal cannabis can be attributed, at least in part, to the close supervision of healthcare professionals who authorized, directed, and monitored its use. This underscores the significance of ensuring that healthcare professionals with specialized knowledge in medicinal cannabis are responsible for prescribing and monitoring its administration.

According to the study, the most commonly recommended method of administering medicinal cannabis was oral. The researchers suggest that additional studies are necessary to establish the ideal dosage and method of administration for various forms of cancer-related pain.

Study Abstract: 

Objectives To evaluate the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis (MC) in reducing pain and concurrent medications in patients with cancer. 

Methods This study analyzed data collected from patients with cancer who were part of the Quebec Cannabis Registry. Brief Pain Inventory (BPI), revised Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS-r) questionnaires, total medication burden (TMB) and morphine equivalent daily dose (MEDD) recorded at 3-month, 6-month, 9-month and 12-month follow-ups were compared with baseline values. Adverse events were also documented at each follow-up visit. 

Results This study included 358 patients with cancer. Thirteen out of 15 adverse events reported in 11 patients were not serious; 2 serious events (pneumonia and cardiovascular event) were considered unlikely related to MC. Statistically significant decreases were observed at 3-month, 6-month and 9-month follow-up for BPI worst pain (5.5±0.7 baseline, 3.6±0.7, 3.6±0.7, 3.6±0.8; p<0.01), average pain (4.1±0.6 baseline, 2.4±0.6, 2.3±0.6, 2.7±0.7; p<0.01), overall pain severity (3.7±0.5 baseline, 2.3±0.6, 2.3±0.6, 2.4±0.6; p<0.01) and pain interference (4.3±0.6 baseline, 2.4±0.6, 2.2±0.6, 2.4±0.7, p<0.01). ESAS-r pain scores decreased significantly at 3-month, 6-month and 9-month follow-up (3.7±0.6 baseline, 2.5±0.6, 2.2±0.6, 2.0±0.7, p<0.01). THC:CBD balanced strains were associated with better pain relief as compared with THC-dominant and CBD-dominant strains. Decreases in TMB were observed at all follow-ups. Decreases in MEDD were observed at the first three follow ups.