A new study out of Great Britain suggests that medical cannabis may lead to improvements in health-related quality of life among patients suffering from chronic illness.
The study, published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, analyzed 2,833 patients who are enrolled in the United Kingdom Medical Cannabis Registry. (The researchers said they excluded 443 patients from an original pool of 3,546 because they failed to complete their “patient reported outcome measures,” or “PROMs.”)
They wrote that the “study suggests that [cannabis-based medicinal products] are associated with an improvement in health-related quality of life in UK patients with chronic diseases,” and that treatment “was tolerated well by most participants, but adverse events were more common in female and cannabis-naïve patients.”
“This observational study suggests that initiating treatment with [cannabis-based medicinal products] is associated with an improvement in general [health-related quality of life], as well as sleep- and anxiety-specific symptoms up to 12 months in patients with chronic illness … Most patients tolerated the treatment well, however, the risk of [adverse events] should be considered before initiating [cannabis-based medicinal products],” the researchers wrote in their conclusions.
“In particular, female and cannabis-naïve patients are at increased likelihood of experiencing adverse events. These findings may help to inform current clinical practice, but most importantly, highlights the need for further clinical trials to determine causality and generate guidelines to optimize therapy with [cannabis-based medicinal products],” they added.
Medical cannabis was legalized in the United Kingdom in 2018, but it can only be prescribed when other licensed medications have failed to produce an adequate response.
That limitation was the impetus for the researchers to conduct the study.
“Since 2018, cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) can be prescribed in the United Kingdom by specialist doctors for chronic illnesses where there has been insufficient response to licensed medications,” they wrote in the introduction of the study, which was published online earlier this month.
“However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence currently only recommends CBMPs for intractable chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, spasticity in adults with multiple sclerosis, and severe treatment-resistant epilepsy in Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes,” they continued. “The reason for these narrow recommendations is that current evidence is limited and of low quality.”
Specifically, the researchers said there is “a paucity of randomized controlled trials, due to the challenges of investigating CBMPs in this setting.”
The findings mesh with another study published in January that found a growing number of patients across the United States turning to cannabis to treat their chronic pain.
That study, from researchers at the University of Michigan, found that “31.0% … of adults with chronic pain reported having ever used cannabis to manage their pain; 25.9% … reported using cannabis to manage their chronic pain in the past 12 months, and 23.2% … reported using cannabis in the past 30 days,” and that “more than half of adults who used cannabis to manage their chronic pain reported that use of cannabis led them to decrease use of prescription opioid, prescription nonopioid, and over-the-counter pain medications, and less than 1% reported that use of cannabis increased their use of these medications.”
“Most persons who used cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain reported substituting cannabis in place of other pain medications including prescription opioids. The high degree of substitution of cannabis with both opioid and nonopioid treatment emphasizes the importance of research to clarify the effectiveness and potential adverse consequences of cannabis for chronic pain,” the researchers wrote. “Our results suggest that state cannabis laws have enabled access to cannabis as an analgesic treatment despite knowledge gaps in use as a medical treatment for pain. Limitations include the possibility of sampling and self-reporting biases, although NORC AmeriSpeak uses best-practice probability-based recruitment, and changes in pain treatment from other factors (eg, forced opioid tapering).”