By Paul Armentano
According to data published last month the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, a majority of Israeli cancer patients permitted to use the plant say that it is “highly effective” at mitigating symptoms of the disease. Israeli researchers surveyed patients with advance cancer who were residing at the Sheba Medical Center, an academic medical center affiliated with Tel Aviv University. Investigators assessed participants’ views on their use of cannabis, which may be legally authorized by an oncologist under Israeli law. (An estimated dozen farms are presently licensed by the government to grow medical cannabis in Israel.) Sixty-nine patients with advanced cancer completed the evaluations. The median age of patient participants was 60 years (range 19-93 years). Fifty-seven percent of the participants were female. The most common cancer diagnoses of those in the study were lung cancer (18 percent), ovarian cancer (12 percent), breast cancer (10 percent), colon cancer (nine percent) and pancreatic cancer (seven and a half percent). Authors reported, “Improvement in pain control was reported by 70 percent of the patients, [improvement in] general well-being by 70 percent, improved appetite by 60 percent, reduced nausea and vomiting by 50 percent, and reduced anxiety by 44 percent.” They further acknowledged, “Importantly, 83 percent graded the overall efficacy of cannabis as high. Investigators described this latter finding as “striking,” noting that previous clinical studies of synthetic cannabinoids or cannabis extracts have not demonstrated a similarly high degree of efficacy. “It is possible that the natural plant is more effective than either the synthetic cannabinoids or pure extracts that were tested in previous trials,” authors hypothesized. They also suggested, “Alternatively, the major beneficial effect of cannabis may be its psychoactivity.” Also notably, the majority of participants (62 percent) reported no adverse side effects attributable to cannabis therapy. Researchers concluded: “The vast majority of the participants who completed the detailed questionnaire stated that cannabis use was associated with an improvement in all aspects that were surveyed, … [O]ur data indicate that nearly half of all cancer patients who start treatment with cannabis continue using it for prolonged periods of time and some of the patients describe the treatment as effective for a wide range of symptoms, including general well-being. Although these data cannot endorse the use of cannabis for specific symptoms, they support the view that its use may be justified as part of palliative treatment in selected cancer patients.” Nonetheless, despite patients’ endorsements for medical cannabis, few Israeli cancer patients are permitted to consume the plant. According to the study, of the estimated 17,000 cancer patients treated at the Sheba Medical Center, fewer than 2 percent had received a permit for cannabis from an authorized institutional oncologist.
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