Cannabaceae is a family of flowering plants. The genus Cannabis belongs to this family. Cannabis has 13 species of plants, of which one species is accepted and confirmed. This accepted species is Cannabis sativa L.
This plant has many uses, one major use being the recreational use drug, marijuana. Its active ingredient is a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Another extract from this plant is called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD in its pure state causes no harm. It is a non-psychedelic compound, being used in research.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a disease where there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. The cell in the body is the site of the origin of cancer. It starts with an abnormal change in one cell or a group of cells.
A cell produces a signal which controls cell division. When these signals are missing, the cell divides without any inhibition and forms a lump or mass of cells, called a tumor.
This tumour may be benign, or malignant (cancerous). The cells of a malignant tumor have a different composition as opposed to normal cells.
These cells spread to other parts of the body and that’s how cancer infiltrates (spreads to) the whole body.
A major complication of cancer is the pain. Its caused by cancer itself or by cancer medications.
What happened in the study
As elucidated previously, THC is the acronym for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psycho-active extract of the plant.
The efficiency of the THC: CBD (tetrahydrocannabinol: cannabidiol) was compared with the efficiency of just a THC extract, with placebo, in the palliative care (pain relief) of patients with advanced cancer.
The THC: CBD extract is a non-opioid (not based on/derived from opium) compound, which gives relief from the chronic pain cancer patients suffer from.
There were 177 volunteers, who were not experiencing proper pain relief in spite of chronic opium based medicine dosage. These 177 volunteers were a part of this two weeks long multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group trial.
This means, the trial was conducted at more than one medical centre, the dosages of the CBD:THC /CBD was switched with placebos and vice versa without letting the volunteer know , and that the groups of subjects were given different treatments at the same time .
Out of the 177 people, 60 people were administered the THC:CBD extract, 58 people were administered the THC extract and 59 were administered placebos.
The change in pain was measured by a system called the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) score.
In this system, the patients are asked to circle a number from 0-10 or 0-20 or 0-100 that best describes the intensity of their pain. Zero means no pain, while the upper limit (10/20/100) means the worst pain possible.
Using this system, it was inferred that the patients who were administered the THC:CBD extract showed a significant reduction in pain, from -0.69 to -1.37. The people who were administered just the THC extract showed a negligent reduction in pain, from -0.69 to -1.01.
Compared to the patients who were administered placebos, the patients taking THC:CBD showed a reduction of more than 30% from the baseline NRS score. 23 people showed a reduction in pain, ie 43%, compared to the 12 people administered placebos (making it 21% ).
This comparison gave a stark difference, compared to the THC group vs placebo group, (12 [23%] vs. 12 [21%]). As the difference is so small, this comparison gave no statistical significance.
The median dose of opioid background medication (the medicine being administered to them before the trial) showed no change from the baseline in the NRS system, neither did the mean doses of the breakthrough medication (given during this trial) across the treatment groups.
There were no significant differences in the NRS sleep quality and the nausea scores or the pain control assessment in the above groups.
But, the results from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Cancer Questionnaire (EORTC) showed that there was worsening of nausea and vomiting in the THC:CBD group compared to the placebo group, with a p-value of 0.02.
European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Cancer Questionnaire, better known as EORTC, was formed to analyze the quality of life of cancer patients.
P-value checks the statistical significance of any statistical result. The group which was administered THC had no difference, maintaining a p-value of 1.0.
Majority of the drug related side effects were mild-moderately severe.
This study shows that, in cancer patients, the pain not fully relieved by the previously administered opioids, is relieved by a THC: CBD extract to a great extent.
What did the study conclude?
The study concluded that a combination of THC and CBD can help in alleviating pain in patients with advanced cancer to a great extent.
Patients who were administered THC showed little difference in the pain, and nausea and vomiting too. Whereas the group which was administered THC: CBD extract showed worsened cases of nausea and vomiting.
What does this mean?
This might be a great breakthrough in the pain and palliative care of patients with advanced cancer.
There might be side effects (nausea and vomiting), but that can be taken care of by other simple nausea medications.
If researched even further, this may really help suffering cancer patients live their last days a little painlessly.
Read Original Paper here – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19896326