The Neuropathic Power of Cannabis for Cancer Patients Realized in New Israeli Study

Neuropathy rates for over 500 cancer patients going through chemo treatment significantly reduced via cannabis treatment.

Chemo patient smoking cannabis
Photo via iStock

Summary:

  • Israeli-based researchers have discovered cannabis could be an effective treatment for the side-effects associated with chemotherapy treatments.
  • Over 500 patients (49% female, 51% male) receiving cannabis therapy alongside oxaliplatin (chemo treatment) for gastrointestinal cancers reported a significant reduction in neuropathic pain, which is a common side-effect of oxaliplatin.
  • The researchers credit the quality of the study to Israel’s medical cannabis program, as all participants are in receipt of licensed cannabis for pain management.
  • The results herald an exciting development into the effectiveness of cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment, adding to the list of its many potential benefits.
  • Medical cannabis is slowly gaining traction worldwide and more research can only lead to further implementation in countries that are yet to embrace it.

A team of Israeli researchers has made an exciting discovery into cannabis pain-relief treatment for cancer patients. 

The study, which was first published in early February, involved a retrospective look at 513 cancer patients from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (TASMC) in Israel. Of the 513 patients, 250 (49%) were females and 263 (51%) were males, all with gastrointestinal or colon malignancies. 

The researchers discovered patients treated with cannabis, alongside oxaliplatin (a conventional chemo treatment), experienced a reduction in neuropathic pain (neuropathy). 

“The rate of neuropathy was reduced among patients treated with cannabis and oxaliplatin,” wrote the researchers. “This reduction was more significant in patients who received cannabis prior to treatment with oxaliplatin, suggesting a protective effect.”

Neuropathy is the result of nerve damage that can be caused by shingles or the treatment of certain diseases such as cancer. Patients experience extreme sensitivity or pain, as well as burning sensations or numbness in various parts of the body.

Oxaliplatin-induced neuropathy is described as “profound” by the researchers. 

“According to the results of our investigation, [neuropathy] may be mitigated and prevented by cannabis treatment,” they concluded.

Israel’s medical cannabis licensing is a huge help

The team has credited the quality of their research to Israel’s wide-scale medical cannabis licensing. They were able to track participants’ cannabis intake due to the availability of their detailed cannabis medical records and draw accurate conclusions based on them.

“The data were retrieved from a large and high-quality tertiary care center database,” the researchers explained. “That includes medical records of patients with various GI malignancies and several treating physicians over a period of more than 2 years.”

The study focused on qualitative rather than quantitative results, which limits it somewhat. It means they were unable to compare the amount or types of cannabis nor the indications for its use, as those variables were not determined. 

They also had to use retrospective data from doctors, which was not only dependent on their notes of patients’ ailments and examinations but also on patients actually visiting their doctor with these symptoms in the first place. This cannot always be a reliable source of information.

The benefits of cannabis for patients are widespread

This isn’t the first time cannabis and its derivatives have been recognized as legitimate treatments for medical use.

Those receiving treatment for cancer reported cannabis to be effective at controlling nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy, as well as improving poor appetite.

Epilepsy patients have long-touted cannabis’ efficaciousness at keeping seizures at bay. Those with multiple sclerosis (MS) and chronic pain conditions also find it helpful to manage discomfort.

Last year, cannabidiol (CBD) was found to be potentially useful as a therapeutic treatment for COVID-related comorbidities, with cannabis being investigated alongside it to treat severe respiratory infection caused by COVID.

CBD has even been discovered to be potentially effective against antibiotic-resistant treatments for bacterial infections such as gonorrhea, MRSA, and meningitis. 

The status of cannabis in the medical community

Medical cannabis has a widespread implementation in the US. 36 states, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized cannabis for medical use (16 states recreationally legal) and an estimated 3.6 million Americans use cannabis for this purpose. The industry was worth over $13 billion in 2019.

Elsewhere in the world, the majority of South America plus all of Australia and New Zealand have legalized medical cannabis, while 22 of Europe’s 44 countries have done the same. 

However, obtaining a prescription isn’t easy for some. National Health Service (NHS) patients in the UK in particular face difficulties as the high costs involved in regulating medical cannabis mean that the socialized system often cannot justify prescribing it. 

Private CBD-only prescriptions can cost anywhere between £100-£150 per month, while medical cannabis prescriptions can cost upwards of £250-£300 per month (on average). 

What does the future hold?

Israel’s medical cannabis industry is booming, patient numbers are growing and its status as the world’s leader in research is clear. 

The Tel-Aviv team has further plans in the pipeline. A large prospective trial of its effects on neuropathy in chemotherapy patients in the wake of their initial promising discovery is on the cards, which could potentially yield further promising results. 

Should this happen, it will surely give further credence to the many thousands of patients who benefit from cannabis’ therapeutic qualities and give reluctant countries the push they need to implement it at a medical level.