Up to 66% of cancer patients have used cannabis

A recently published and rather exciting Cochrane review has been conducted comparing the efficacy of cannabinoid (cannabis derived molecules) treatments compared to current anti-nausea drugs. Cannabis use amongst cancer patients has been reportedly high as 66% (Pergam et al, 2017). Legalisation has played a key role in this uptake. 
To add more credibility to this conversation this recent study is a cochrane review. A Cochrane review is really the crème de la crème of scientific evidence and support. The aim of a Cochrane review is to collect all the literature in a specific research field and summarise all of the evidence currently available in scientific literature. The findings of this review exhibit multiple positive findings demonstrating the efficacy for medical cannabinoids in treating the nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy in cancer patients. The review compared 23 controlled trials (RCTs) that compared a cannabis-based medication with either placebo or with a conventional anti-emetic in adults receiving chemotherapy. The authors of this paper noted that many studies were at risk of bias due to either lack of allocation concealment or attrition. Trials were conducted between 1975 and 1991. No trials involved comparison with newer anti-emetic drugs such as ondansetron.


1.       People had more chance of reporting complete absence of vomiting (3 trials; 168 participants) and complete absence of nausea and vomiting (3 trials; 288 participants moderate quality evidence) when they received cannabinoids compared with placebo.
2.       People had more chance of withdrawing due to an adverse event (2 trials; 276 participants; very low quality evidence) and less chance of withdrawing due to lack of efficacy when they received cannabinoids, compared with placebo (1 trial; 228 participants; low quality evidence). In addition, people had more chance of ’feeling high’ when they received cannabinoids compared with placebo (3 trials; 137 participants). People reported a preference for cannabinoids rather than placebo (2 trials; 256 participants; low quality evidence).
3.       In trials where people received cannabis-based medicines and conventional medicines in turn, overall people preferred the cannabis-based medicines


Given the findings of this paper, it is clear that Cannabis-based medications have massive potential for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients. These results are particularly exciting for patients whom current anti-nausea and vomiting drugs do not work. Despite the methodological limitations of some of the trials, this study further supports the movement for the wider recognition and research of cannabinoids as a medical therapeutic. It is obvious that further research into the refinement of cannabis based medicines will continue to advance the efficacy of future treatments offering the wider population safer and more effective options when other treatments are lacking.
Study reference
  1. Smith, L. A. et al. (2015) ‘Antiemetic medication for prevention and treatment of chemotherapy‐induced nausea and vomiting in childhood’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, (2). doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009464.pub2.

  1. Pergam, S. A. et al. (2017) ‘Cannabis use among patients at a comprehensive cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational use’, Cancer, 123(22), pp. 4488–4497. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30879.