Medicinal cannabis can safely reduce cancer pain and opioid use

Credit: Esteban López / Unsplash

A new study published in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care suggests that medicinal cannabis may be a safe and effective treatment option for cancer patients suffering from pain.

The study, which was conducted over 3.5 years and involved 358 adults with cancer, found that medicinal cannabis was able to relieve pain while reducing the total number of medications and opioids taken.

The Study

The study focused on the treatment responses of adults with cancer whose details were submitted to the Quebec Cannabis Registry in Canada.

The patient’s average age was 57, and nearly half of them were men. The pain was the most frequently reported symptom that prompted a prescription for medicinal cannabis.

The patients were authorized to use THC-dominant, THC: CBD-balanced, and CBD-dominant products in varying percentages. The most frequently recommended route of administration was by mouth.

The patients’ pain intensity, symptoms, the total number of drugs taken, and daily morphine consumption were monitored quarterly for one year.

Pain intensity was rated using validated measures on a sliding scale from none to the worst possible, and pain relief from none to complete.


The study found that medicinal cannabis was safe and well-tolerated, with only 15 moderate to severe side effects reported by 11 patients, 13 of which were regarded as minor.

The two most common side effects were sleepiness and fatigue. Only five patients stopped taking medicinal cannabis because of side effects.

The study also found that THC: CBD balanced products were associated with better pain relief than either THC-dominant or CBD-dominant products.

Statistically significant decreases were observed at three, six, and nine months for worst and average pain intensity, overall pain severity, and pain interference with daily life.

The total number of drugs taken fell consistently at all subsequent quarterly check-ups, while opioid use fell over the first three check-ups.

The study’s authors caution that it is an observational study and, as such, cannot establish cause.

Additionally, a significant number of patients were lost to follow-up over the course of the 12 months, and information on the use of other prescribed medications was limited to addition or discontinuation.


The study concludes that medicinal cannabis is a safe and complementary treatment option in patients with cancer who are not getting adequate pain relief from conventional analgesics such as opioids.

The findings of the study suggest that medicinal cannabis can safely relieve cancer pain while reducing the total number of medications and opioids taken.

Cancer Pain and Conventional Treatments

Over half of patients undergoing anticancer treatment and two-thirds of those with advanced or terminal disease experience pain.

Powerful opioids, along with other medications such as anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant drugs, are usually prescribed for pain relief.

However, one in three patients will still experience pain, and the side effects of opioids include nausea, sleepiness, constipation, and respiratory depression.

Medicinal cannabis appears to be a promising alternative for cancer patients who are not getting adequate pain relief from conventional treatments.

Medicinal cannabis is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, and its active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), have been shown to have therapeutic properties.

THC is known for its psychoactive effects, while CBD is non-psychoactive and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and antipsychotic properties.

Medicinal cannabis is available in various forms, including capsules, tinctures, sprays, and vaporizers.

It can be taken orally or inhaled, and its effects can be felt within minutes to hours, depending on the route of administration.

The Takeaway

In conclusion, this study provides evidence that medicinal cannabis can be a safe and effective option for relieving cancer pain, particularly when conventional drugs have failed to provide adequate relief.

The study highlights the benefits of using THC: CBD balanced products and suggests that this approach could help reduce the total number of drugs and opioids taken by patients, while also providing effective pain relief.

However, it’s important to note that this study is observational and cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship between medicinal cannabis and pain relief.

Moreover, some patients were lost to follow-up, and information on the use of other prescribed medications was limited.

If you care about pain, please read studies about vitamins that could help reduce bone fracture risk, and drinking electrolytes may help reduce muscle pain.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that painkiller ibuprofen may strongly influence your liver, and results showing Marijuana for pain relief may lead to withdrawal symptoms.

The study was published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

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