Studying cannabis impacts on cancer symptons

Dr. Pippa Hawley is the lead researcher of a Canada-wide clinical study looking into how effective cannabis products are at alleviating some of the most common cancer symptoms. (Photo courtesy of BC Cancer Foundation)

People living with cancer in Greater Victoria can be part of a cross-Canada study looking at the effect cannabis products have on some of the most common cancer symptoms.

The study will evaluate the effect three Health Canada-approved medical cannabis oil extracts have on four cancer-related symptoms: nausea, pain, anxiety and insomnia.

According to the study’s lead researcher, small studies have previously been done on using cannabis for cancer-related pain, but clinical data is lacking on its effectiveness for treating overall symptoms, and using cannabidiol (CBD) has never really been studied.

“That’s why we feel our study is really quite groundbreaking,” Dr. Pippa Hawley, a palliative medicine specialist and medical director with BC Cancer, told Black Press Media.

The agency’s surveys have found about a quarter of the province’s cancer patients are using cannabis products for their symptoms. Hawley hopes the study will allow medical professionals to know what specific products should be given to people with certain symptoms and what dosage will heed the best results.

“As health-care professionals, we have to be evidence based,” she said. “We can’t be recommending things that we don’t have any evidence for, so this is trying to provide that evidence.”

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Lacking data creates problems, Hawley said, including medical professionals being wary of recommending its use, patients being reluctant or nervous about cannabis, and cannabis products people find help their symptoms not being covered under Medicare.

“If we can identify particular conditions where there is good evidence for (cannabis treatment), we may be able to persuade the funding agencies that it’s actually cost-effective to pay for it,” she said.

Some patients find cannabis products work better and have less side effects than traditional medications, she said. As most cancer patients experience several symptoms, medical professionals try to address as many issues as possible while prescribing the least amount of medications, Hawley added.

“One of the advantages of medical cannabis appears to be that people can take it for multiple different symptoms, are thereby reduce the number of drugs they have to take.”

The study is looking to recruit 120 cancer patients from across the country. Each patient will be given four bottles that include a THC extract, a CBD extract, a one-to-one mix of THC and CBD and one placebo bottle. Participants take one bottle at a time, with the whole process taking about seven weeks.

Those who want to participate in the study can visit the BC Cancer Foundation website.

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