In trials conducted in the 1980s that involved healthy control subjects, inhaling Cannabis led to an increase in caloric intake, mainly in the form of between-meal snacks, with increased intakes of fatty and sweet foods.[29,30] No published studies have explored the effect of inhaled Cannabis on appetite in cancer patients.
Pain management improves a patient's quality of life throughout all stages of cancer. Through the study of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and synthetic agonists and antagonists, the mechanisms of cannabinoid-induced analgesia have been analyzed. The CB1 receptor is found in the central nervous system (CNS) and in peripheral nerve terminals. CB2 receptors are located mainly in peripheral tissue and are expressed in only low amounts in the CNS. Whereas only CB1 agonists exert analgesic activity in the CNS, both CB1 and CB2 agonists have analgesic activity in peripheral tissue.[32,33]
Cancer pain results from inflammation, invasion of bone or other pain-sensitive structures, or nerve injury. When cancer pain is severe and persistent, it is often resistant to treatment with opioids.
Two studies examined the effects of oral delta-9-THC on cancer pain. The first, a double-blind placebo-controlled study involving ten patients, measured both pain intensity and pain relief. It was reported that 15 mg and 20 mg doses of the cannabinoid delta-9-THC were associated with substantial analgesic effects, with antiemetic effects and appetite stimulation.
In a follow-up single-dose study involving 36 patients, it was reported that 10 mg doses of delta-9-THC produced analgesic effects during a 7-hour observation period that were comparable to 60 mg doses of codeine, and 20 mg doses of delta-9-THC induced effects equivalent to 120 mg doses of codeine. Higher doses of THC were found to be more sedative than codeine.
Another study examined the effects of a whole-plant extract with controlled cannabinoid content in an oromucosal spray. In a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the THC:cannabidiol nabiximols (THC:CBD) extract and THC extract alone were compared in the analgesic management of patients with advanced cancer and with moderate-to-severe cancer-related pain. Patients were assigned to one of three treatment groups: THC:CBD extract, THC extract, or placebo. The researchers concluded that the THC:CBD extract was efficacious for pain relief in advanced cancer patients whose pain was not fully relieved by strong opioids. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, graded-dose trial, opioid-treated cancer patients with poorly controlled chronic pain demonstrated significantly better control of pain and sleep disruption with THC:CBD oromucosal spray at lower doses (1–4 and 6–10 sprays/day), compared with placebo. Adverse events were dose related, with only the high-dose group (11–16 sprays/day) comparing unfavorably with the placebo arm. These studies provide promising evidence of an "adjuvant analgesic" effect of THC:CBD in this opioid-refractory patient population and may provide an opportunity to address this significant clinical challenge. An open-label extension study of 43 patients who had participated in the randomized trial found that some patients continued to obtain relief of their cancer-related pain with long-term use of the THC:CBD oromucosal spray without increasing their dose of the spray or the dose of their other analgesics.