Palliative care describes a class of healthcare intended to enhance patients' quality of life with severe, life-threatening diseases, including cancer. Palliative care is not the same as hospice care, a different type of healthcare focusing on patients nearing the end of life who are no longer receiving medical treatments trying to cure or even slow the progression of their disease. So, while patients receiving palliative care may also receive medical treatments targeting their illness, those in hospice care only receive care to increase their comfort in the last days or months of their life.
While an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana use in some form or another, understanding the impact it could have on various medical conditions or symptoms associated with diseases and disorders has come under focus. Marijuana describes dried flowers, leaves, stems, or seeds of a plant called cannabis. Composed of over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids, the cannabis plant holds a diverse array of potential medicinal benefits.
Two of the most well-known cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can impair function, alter brain signals, and cause a “high,” and cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychoactive or intoxicating effects.
CBD oil, generated when CBD is extracted from cannabis and emulsified into an oil, has emerged as a popular product claiming a wide range of medical benefits. The CBD industry has touched many products, including cosmetics, food, beverage, and supplements. In 2021, financial experts estimated CBD’s global market value at $5.8 billion. Moreover, CBD sales in the US may exceed $20 billion by 2024. Despite the steady increase of CBD products and the affiliated economic boosts, most of the medicinal claims associated with CBD remain anecdotal. Of note, the only FDA-approved use of CBD is in the form of an anti-seizure drug called Epidiolex.
To test the potential benefits of CBD, a team of researchers investigated the effects of CBD oil in palliative care patients with advanced forms of cancer. The results of this study, recently published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that CBD oil provided no added benefit to standard palliative care.
The study included 144 patients with advanced cancer experiencing symptom distress as determined using a well-established scale known as the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale. Patients received CBD oil or placebo for 28 days.
After 14 days of intervention, the analysis revealed no significant difference between the symptom distress between the CBD and placebo groups. Specifically, in this study, CBD had no impact on quality of life, depression, or anxiety. While 53% of patients in the CBD group reported feeling better or much better after 14 days of treatment, 65% of those in the placebo group said the same. After the full 28 days of treatment, 70% and 64% of patients felt better or much better in the CBD and placebo groups, respectively.
The authors conclude that “despite widespread public belief in the benefits of cannabis, this study failed to demonstrate an improvement in symptom control from CBD oil in patients with advanced cancer over that obtained from palliative care alone.” The authors also note that using pure CBD could present a significant criticism of their study as combining CBD and THC could prove more beneficial.