Background: The opioid epidemic has spurred investigations for nonopioid options, yet limited research persists on medical marijuana's (MMJ) efficacy in managing cancer-related symptoms.
Objective: We sought to characterize MMJ's role on symptomatic relief and opioid consumption in the oncologic population.
Design: Retrospective chart review of MMJ-certified oncology patients was performed. Divided patients into MMJ use [MMJ(+)] versus no use [MMJ(-)], and Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS)-reported pain cohorts: “mild-moderate” versus “severe.”
Measurements: Medical records were reviewed for ESAS, to measure physical and emotional symptoms, and opiate consumption, converted into morphine milligram equivalents (MME). Minimal clinically important differences were determined. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests determined statistical significance between MMJ-certification and most recent palliative care visit.
Results: Identified 232 patients [95/232 MMJ(-); 137/232 MMJ(+)]. Pain, physical and total ESAS significantly improved for total MMJ(-) and MMJ(+); however, only MMJ(+) significantly improved emotional ESAS. MMJ(-) opioid consumption increased by 23% (97.5–120 mg/day MME, p = 0.004), while it remained constant (45–45 mg/day MME, p = 0.522) in MMJ(+). Physical and total ESAS improved in mild-moderate-MMJ(-) and MMJ(+). Pain and emotional symptoms worsened in MMJ(-); while MMJ(+)'s pain remained unchanged and emotional symptoms improved. MMJ(-) opioid consumption increased by 29% (90–126 mg/day MME, p = 0.012); while MMJ(+)'s decreased by 33% (45–30 mg/day MME, p = 0.935). Pain, physical, emotional, and total ESAS scores improved in severe-MMJ(-) and MMJ(+); opioid consumption reduced by 22% in MMJ(-) (135–106 mg/day MME, p = 0.124) and 33% in MMJ(+) (90–60 mg/day MME, p = 0.421).
Conclusions: MMJ(+) improved oncology patients' ESAS scores despite opioid dose reductions and should be considered a viable adjuvant therapy for palliative management.
En 2020, la France expérimente l'utilisation du cannabis médical pour soulager les patients atteints par cinq catégories de maladies : les douleurs chroniques rebelles, l'épilepsie, les cancers, la sclérose en plaques et les soins palliatifs. Le médecin Pascal Douek répond aux questions relatives à cette expérimentation et dresse l'histoire de l'utilisation du cannabis à visée thérapeutique.
BACKGROUND: Despite improvements in medical care, patients with advanced cancer still experience substantial symptom distress. There is increasing interest in the use of medicinal cannabinoids but little high-quality evidence to guide clinicians. This study aims to define the role of a 1:1 delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol/cannabidiol (THC/CBD) cannabinoid preparation in the management of symptom burden in patients with advanced cancer undergoing standard palliative care.
METHODS AND DESIGN: One hundred fifty participants will be recruited from five sites within the Queensland Palliative Care Research Group (QPCRG) and randomly assigned to an active treatment or placebo group. This study is a pragmatic multicentre, randomised, placebo-controlled, two-arm trial of escalating doses of an oral 1:1 THC/CBD cannabinoid preparation. It will compare efficacy and safety outcomes of a titrated dose (10 mg/10 mg/mL oral solution formulation, dose range 2.5 mg/2.5 mg-30 mg/30 mg/day) against placebo. There is a 2-week patient-determined titration phase, using escalating doses of 1:1 THC/CBD or placebo, to reach a dose that achieves symptom relief with tolerable side effects. This is then followed by a further 2-week assessment period on the stable dose determined in collaboration with clinicians. The primary objective is to assess the effect of escalating doses of a 1:1 THC/CBD cannabinoid preparation against placebo on change in total symptom score, with secondary objectives including establishing a patient-determined effective dose, the change in total physical and emotional sores, global impression of change, anxiety and depression, opioid use, quality of life and adverse effects.
DISCUSSION: This will be the first placebo-controlled clinical trial to rigorously evaluate the efficacy, safety and acceptability of 1:1 THC/CBD for symptom relief in advanced cancer patients. This study will allow the medical community to have some evidence to present to patients wishing to access cannabis for their symptoms caused by advanced malignancy.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ACTRN, ACTRN12619000037101 . Registered on 14 January 2019. Trial Sponsor: Mater Misericordiae Limited (MML) and Mater Medical Research Institute Limited (MMRI)-Raymond Terrace, South Brisbane, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
This study aimed to analyze the trends of opioid use disorders, cannabis use disorders, and palliative care among hospitalized patients with gastrointestinal cancer and to identify their associated factors.
We analyzed the National Inpatient Sample data from 2005 to 2014 and included hospitalized patients with gastrointestinal cancers. The trends of hospital palliative care and opioid or cannabis use disorders were analyzed using the compound annual growth rates (CAGR) with Rao-Scott correction for 2 tests. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed to identify the associated factors.
From 2005 to 2014, among 4,364,416 hospitalizations of patients with gastrointestinal cancer, the average annual rates of opioid and cannabis use disorders were 0.4% (n = 19,520), and 0.3% (n = 13,009), respectively. The utilization rate of hospital palliative care was 6.2% (n = 268,742). They all sharply increased for 10 years (CAGR = 9.61%, 22.2%, and 21.51%, respectively). The patients with a cannabis use disorder were over 4 times more likely to have an opioid use disorder (Odds ratios, OR = 4.029; P < .001). Hospital palliative care was associated with higher opioid use disorder rates, higher in-hospital mortality, shorter length of hospital stay, and lower hospital charges. (OR = 1.527, 9.980, B = -0.054 and -0.386; each of P < .001).
The temporal trends of opioid use disorders and hospital palliative care use among patients with gastrointestinal cancer increased from 2005 to 2014, which is mostly attributed to patients with a higher risk of in-hospital mortality. Cannabis use disorders were associated with opioid use disorders. Palliative care was associated with both reduced lengths of stay and hospital charge.
BACKGROUND: Palliative medicine physicians are challenged by lack of guidance regarding effectiveness and dosing of cannabis products in the setting of their emerging popularity.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe early patterns of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) use in Florida following passage of the state's first medical marijuana law. We describe here the perceived benefits, side effects, and beliefs expressed by patients in a single outpatient academic palliative medicine practice.
METHODS: A cross-sectional survey was performed of a sequential convenience sample of patients who presented to an outpatient academic palliative medicine clinic over a 3-month period.
RESULTS: In all, 24% (14/58) of respondents reported THC use, with half using THC on a daily basis. Patients reported improvements in pain, appetite, and nausea. In all, 71% (10/14) began using THC after the diagnosis of their chronic illness, and the most common form of usage was vaping. In all, 24% (14/58) of patients reported CBD use. Patients reported improvements in pain, and the most common form of usage was topical application. None of the patients had used CBD prior to the onset of their chronic illness. In all, 21% (3/14) of THC users and 21% (3/14) of CBD users thought that their substance was helping to cure their illness. Individual reported side effects in both groups were minimal.
CONCLUSIONS: Approximately a quarter of outpatient palliative care patients use THC or CBD, often on a daily basis. Palliative care providers should be aware of the frequency, diverse usage, and beliefs behind cannabis product use in this patient population.
Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organization as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness…”. The last days and hours of a person’s life can be associated with immense physical as well as emotional suffering. Relief of pain and other distressing symptoms, and enhancement of quality of life, are among the essential elements of good palliative care. Palliative care could benefit an estimated 69% to 82% of dying individuals in Canada. As Canada’s population ages, with increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and treatments resulting in prolonged life, it is expected that there will be an increased need for palliative care services. Approximately 9% of Canadians (or 2.7 million) reported using cannabis for medical purposes in the first half of 2019.4 Herbal cannabis (cannabis sativa) contains hundreds of pharmacological components, many of which are not well-characterized. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most prevalent pharmacologically active compound and is primarily responsible for the psychoactive and physical effects of cannabis. Cannabidiol (also commonly referred to as CBD) is the second most prevalent. It has very little if any psychotropic effects. Quantity and ratio of these and other components can vary considerably between plants and even within the same plant. Two prescription cannabinoids are currently marketed in Canada: Nabiximols (Sativex) which contains THC and cannabidiol, and Nabilone (Cesamet) which is a synthetic cannabinoid. Dronabinol (Marinol), synthetic THC, was withdrawn from the Canadian market however it is available in other jurisdictions. For the purposes of this report, medical cannabis refers to use of the cannabis plant or its extracts or synthetic cannabinoids for medical purposes. Medical cannabis may be of value for a number of conditions, including but not limited to pain, nausea and vomiting, depression, anxiety and appetite stimulation. Adverse effects of cannabis are very common, developing in 80% to 90% of patients. These include but are not limited to psychiatric disturbances, sedation, speech disorders, impaired memory, dizziness, ataxia, addiction, irritability, and driving impairment. Risk of adverse effects is likely lower with cannabidiol alone as compared to THC. The potential for drug interactions is also an important concern. These risks must be considered along with the an apparent lack of evidence surrounding effectiveness of medical cannabis in many conditions for which its use is promoted. This report updates and expands on a previous summary of abstracts report.9 The objective of the report is to review evidence and guidelines for use of medical cannabis in the palliative care setting.
Background: Despite improvements in medical care, patients with advanced cancer still experience substantial symptom distress. There is increasing interest in the use of medicinal cannabinoids, but there is little high quality evidence to guide clinicians. This study aims to define the role of cannabidiol (CBD) in the management of symptom burden in patients with advanced cancer undergoing standard palliative care.
Methods and design: This study is a multicentre, randomised, placebo controlled, two arm, parallel trial of escalating doses of oral CBD. It will compare efficacy and safety outcomes of a titrated dose of CBD (100 mg/mL formulation, dose range 50 mg to 600 mg per day) against placebo. There is a 2-week patient determined titration phase, using escalating doses of CBD or placebo to reach a dose that achieves symptom relief with tolerable side effects. This is then followed by a further 2-week assessment period on the stable dose determined in collaboration with clinicians.
Discussion: A major strength of this study is that it will target symptom burden as a whole, rather than just individual symptoms, in an attempt to describe the general improvement in wellbeing previously reported by some patients in open label, non controlled trials of medicinal cannabis. Randomisation with placebo is essential because of the well-documented over reporting of benefit in uncontrolled trials and high placebo response rates in cancer pain trials. This will be the first placebo controlled clinical trial to evaluate rigorously the efficacy, safety and acceptability of CBD for symptom relief in advanced cancer patients. This study will provide the medical community with evidence to present to patients wishing to access medicinal cannabis for their cancer related symptoms.
Trial registration number: ALCTRN12618001220257 Registered 20/07/2018.
OBJECTIVE: Opioids are the primary therapy for cancer-related pain in patients receiving palliative care. More states are legalizing medical cannabis, which may provide a pain management alternative for some of these patients. This study aimed to estimate the effect of cannabis on opioid use in patients with cancer receiving palliative care.
METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study of patients with cancer at an academic medical center palliative care clinic. The primary outcome was change in morphine equivalent daily dose (MEDD) from baseline to 84-day follow-up in the cannabis plus opioid group compared to that in the opioid-only group.
RESULTS: A total of 83 patients were included: 61 in the opioid monotherapy group and 22 in the cannabis plus opioid group. An increase in MEDD from the baseline to 84 days was seen in both the opioid monotherapy and opioid plus cannabis group (28.8 vs. 10.8); however, the study lacked power to detect a statistical difference.
CONCLUSION: A possibly meaningful difference in MEDD increase was seen when comparing the opioid monotherapy group with the opioid plus cannabis group. However, the study was not powered to test this hypothesis; the findings suggest that further research is warranted to determine the impact of cannabis use on opioid dosing in patients receiving palliative care for cancer.
Background: There is considerable interest in the use of cannabinoids for symptom control in palliative care, but there is little high-quality evidence to guide clinical practice.
Objectives: Assess the feasibility of using global symptom burden measures to assess response to medicinal cannabis, to determine median tolerated doses of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and to document adverse events (AEs).
Design: Prospective two-arm open-label pilot trial of escalating doses of CBD and THC oil.
Setting/Subjects: Participants had advanced cancer and cancer-related symptoms in a palliative and supportive care service in an Australian cancer center.
Measurements: The main outcome measures were the number of participants screened and randomized over the time frame, the number of participants completing days 14 and 28 and providing total symptom distress scores (TSDSs) (measured using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale), and the change from baseline of the TSDS at day 14.
Results: Of the 21 participants enrolled (CBD, n = 16; THC, n = 5), 18 (86%) completed the primary outcome measure at day 14 and 8 completed at day 28. The median maximum tolerated doses were CBD, 300 mg/day (range 100–600 mg); THC, 10 mg/day (range 5–30 mg). Nine of 21 patients (43%) met the definition of response (=6 point reduction in TSDS). Drowsiness was the most common AE.
Conclusions: Trials of medicinal cannabis in advanced cancer patients undergoing palliative care are feasible. The doses of THC and CBD used in this study were generally well tolerated and the outcome measure of total symptom distress is promising as a measure of overall symptom benefit. Trial registration: ACTRN12618001205224.
The use of medical cannabis is increasing significantly throughout the United States in spite of limited and sometimes contradictory data about its effectiveness. Palliative care providers are being asked to consider cannabis as part of symptom-directed treatment regimens although many providers have limited experience recommending medical cannabis and were trained before it was commercially available. This article seeks to dispel myths about medical cannabis and provides a balanced view of the benefits and burdens of this therapeutic option, providing evidence where it exists and offering practicing clinicians guidance on conditions in which medical cannabis is likely to be helpful or burdensome.
Background: There is an increasing focus among cancer patients on the use of cannabis-based medicine (CBM) as a supplement to conventional palliative care. However, physicians are reluctant to engage in dialog with the patients as clinical evidence is lacking. As a result, the patients are often left alone to rely on their own judgment in purchasing CBM products on the illegal market.
Objective: Our study aimed to collect information from CBM treatment-experienced cancer patients receiving palliative care regarding treatment decision rationale and outcome.
Design: A qualitative interview study using thematic analysis was performed.
Setting/Participants: A total of 20 informants took part in individual interviews.
Results: to the question addressing the main rationale for starting CBM treatment, all 20 patients responded that they carried a hope that cannabis would have a curative effect on the cancer disease. Most patients reported relief of symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, nausea, and pain, after initiation of CBM treatment, but this outcome was perceived as less of a focus in comparison to hope of a cure.
Conclusion: This study contributes with knowledge from the perspective of the cancer patient in palliative care regarding the decision behind the use of CBM. There seems to be striving for surviving cancer based on the rationale that cannabis may constitute curative properties. Relief of symptoms is perceived as a secondary reason for treatment. This knowledge is essential in the dialog between the health professional and the cancer patient about the use of CBM products for treatment.
Introduction: Patients with serious illness often have pain, uncontrolled symptoms, and poor quality of life. Evidence continues to evolve regarding the role of cannabis to treat chronic pain, nausea, and anorexia. Little is known about how patients with serious illness perceive its benefits and harms. Given that an increasing number of clinicians across the United States are treating patients with medical cannabis, it is important for providers to understand patient beliefs about this modality. We assessed patient perceptions of benefits and harms of cannabis who obtained a medical cannabis card within an ambulatory palliative care (APC) practice.
Methods: We recruited patients with a medical cannabis card, allowing for legal possession of cannabis oil, from an APC practice in Georgia. All participants reported using cannabis products. Patients completed an online survey that included questions about their cannabis use, concurrent opiate or controlled medication use, and perceptions of benefits and harms of cannabis.
Results: All 101 patients invited to participate completed the survey. A majority had cancer (76%) and were married (61%), disabled or retired (75%), older than 50 years of age (64%), and men (56%). Most patients ingested (61%) or vaporized (49%) cannabis products. A majority of respondents perceived cannabis to be important for their pain (96%) management. They reported that side effects were minimally bothersome, and drowsiness was the most commonly reported bothersome harm (28%). A minority of patients reported cannabis withdrawal symptoms (19%) and concerns for dependency (14%). The majority of patients were using concurrent prescription opioids (65%). Furthermore, a majority of cancer patients reported cannabis as being important for cancer cure (59%).
Conclusion: Patients living with serious illnesses who use cannabis in the context of a multidisciplinary APC practice use cannabis for curative intent and for pain and symptom control. Patients reported improved pain, other symptoms, and a sense of well-being with few reported harms.
Objectives: To determine the relative contributions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) to patients' self-ratings of efficacy for common palliative care symptoms.
Design: This is an electronic record-based retrospective cohort study. Model development used logistic regression with bootstrapped confidence intervals (CIs), with standard errors clustered to account for multiple observations by each patient.
Setting: This is a national Canadian patient portal.
Participants: A total of 2,431 patients participated.
Main Outcome Measures: Self-ratings of efficacy of cannabis, defined as a three-point reduction in neuropathic pain, anorexia, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, insomnia, and post-traumatic flashbacks.
Results: We included 26,150 observations between October 1, 2017 and November 28, 2018. Of the six symptoms, response was associated with increased THC:CBD ratio for neuropathic pain (odds ratio [OR]: 3.58; 95% CI: 1.32–9.68; p = 0.012), insomnia (OR: 2.93; 95% CI: 1.75–4.91; p < 0.001), and depressive symptoms (OR: 1.63; 95% CI: 1.07–2.49; p = 0.022). Increased THC:CBD ratio was not associated with a greater response of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related flashbacks (OR: 1.43; 95% CI: 0.60–3.41; p = 0.415) or anorexia (OR: 1.61; 95% CI: 0.70–3.73; p = 0.265). The response for anxiety symptoms was not significant (OR: 1.13; 95% CI: 0.77–1.64; p = 0.53), but showed an inverted U-shaped curve, with maximal benefit at a 1:1 ratio (50% THC).
Conclusions: These preliminary results offer a unique view of real-world medical cannabis use and identify several areas for future research.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has received public interest as an antidote for pain, epilepsy, anxiety, and nausea. In the United States, there is one Food and Drug Administration (FDA approved CBD-based medication - epidiolex - which is indicated for refratory seizures from disorders such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Davet syndrome at a usual dose range of 2.5-20 mg/kg twice a day. More commonly though, CBD refers to nonregulated oil that is either derived from a marijuana plant (true CBD oil) or a hemp plant (hemp oil). This Fast Fact addresses common clinical questions about CBD oil. For more general information on the use of cannabinoids in palliative care, see Fast Fact #279.