Asmall Canadian study found that patients who took delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, slept better and derived more enjoyment from eating than patients given a placebo. The University of Alberta investigators, led by associate professor Wendy Wismer, recruited terminal patients with advanced cancer who were randomly assigned to take 2.5 mg of dronabinol (a pill form of THC) or placebo twice daily for 18 days. Afterward, the participants completed questionnaires to assess whether their quality of life improved during the study.
Chemotherapy, along with certain types of cancer, often affects the senses of smell and taste and leads to anorexia in some patients. Helping patients maintain a healthy weight and nutritional status is challenging, which was the impetus for the study. All the participants underwent chemotherapy prior to enrollment, and approximately two-thirds reported mild to moderate changes in their sense of taste.
Although 73% of the THC group found food more appealing and 55% said food tasted better while taking the drug, overall calorie intake was similar between the 2 groups. Patients in the THC group did increase their consumption of meat, a food that commonly induces nausea during chemotherapy and tends to be avoided.
The investigators said patients taking THC reported improvement in their sleeping habits. A 2009 study by Palesh and associates appearing in the Journal of Oncology observed that more than three-quarters of patients with cancer experience sleep disorders during chemotherapy, and 43% meet the criteria for a diagnosis of insomnia. Palesh and colleagues found a correlation between sleep disorders and depression, and the authors of this Canadian study speculated that THC might help alleviate sleep disorders and depression. They said it might also reduce pain, inflammation, and anxiety. The THC and control arms had similar rates of adverse events, which were minimal overall.
The study by Wismer and associates is limited by its small study size and did not analyze the effects of smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes. The complete findings are available in the March issue of the Annals of Oncology
To sign up for our newsletter or print publications, please enter your contact information below.
Subscribe to recieve the free, monthly TON print publication and TON weekly e‑newsletter.