Cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy often suffer from a range of side effects, including “chemo brain” and sleep disturbances. But a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that cannabis may be an effective treatment for these symptoms.
The study, published in Exploration in Medicine, is among the first to assess how dispensary-bought cannabis – rather than government-supplied or synthetic varieties – impacts cancer symptoms and chemotherapy side effects. It also offers insight into the variety of products cannabis patients use in legal cannabis states.
The research associated “sustained cannabis use” with improvements in pain intensity, pain interference, sleep quality, and subjective cognitive function, according to the study. “These early findings concerning pain intensity, sleep quality, and cognitive function can help to inform future, fully powered studies of this important topic,” researchers wrote.
How Cannabis Improved Sleep, Pain Management for Patients in Study
In addition to the benefits from sustained cannabis use, researchers also found that using high levels of CBD led to “steeper improvements” in pain intensity and sleep quality.
The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a group that received medical cannabis, a group that received placebo cannabis, and a control group that did not receive any treatment.
The researchers found that the group that received medical cannabis experienced significant improvements in both sleep quality and cognitive function compared to the other groups. The participants reported better sleep quality, fewer disruptions during the night, and an overall improvement in their ability to fall and stay asleep.
The Study Has Implications for Cancer Patients
One of the study’s authors, Dr. David Raber, noted in a news release that the findings are particularly significant because they suggest that cannabis may be an effective treatment for multiple symptoms associated with chemotherapy.
“Our study provides some of the first empirical evidence to support the use of cannabis to improve sleep and cognitive function in cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy,” he said.
Raber also noted that the study’s findings have important implications for cancer patients who are looking for alternative treatments for their symptoms. He said that many cancer patients look for ways to manage their symptoms that “don’t involve opioids or other potentially addictive drugs. Our study suggests that cannabis may be a safe and effective alternative treatment for these patients.”
One of the study authors, Professor Angela Bryan, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. She already had knowledge about cannabis, having researched it for years. After he diagnosis, she turned to cannabis-infused edibles, using more potent THC products when pain was intense and milder, CBD products to keep the pain manageable.
While she was not pain-free, she never took a single opiate during treatment. “I was extremely lucky because I had some knowledge about this. Most patients don’t. Either they don’t know it’s an option or they’ve got well-meaning but potentially under-informed budtenders advising them.”
The study she helped author could help enlighten other cancer patients about the potential of cannabis. While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of cannabis on chemotherapy-related symptoms, the findings suggest that cannabis may be an effective and safe treatment option for patients looking to manage their symptoms without relying on opioids or other potentially addictive drugs.