Even with the best anti-nausea medications one in three patients receiving chemotherapy experiences vomiting, and about half suffer nausea.
But medicinal cannabis has been shown to make a difference in relieving these extremely debilitating side effects of cancer treatment.
Adding to the body of research, recent early results from a trial involving 81 patients at the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse hospital, in Sydney, Australia, found that cannabis capsules are indeed better than placebo at improving symptoms.
According to details in Annals of Oncology the phase II study comprised 81 patients, who were given three doses a day of either marijuana capsules, or a placebo. This was accompanied by dosing with antiemetics, i.e. medications that suppress nausea and vomiting. The researchers found "significant improvement" in the severity of side effects with an extra one in 10 patients having control of nausea and vomiting in the cannabis treatment group, compared with the placebo group, according to Associate Professor Peter Grimison, a medical oncologist involved in the trial.
To put it another way, 25 percent of participants taking the marijuana experienced no vomiting or nausea at all, against 14 percent of those who were administered the placebo.
Each active capsule contained 2.5mg THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and 2.5mg CBD (cannabidiol) and trial participants were able to gradually adjust dosage up or down based on experience, during the period from 1 day before chemotherapy administration to 5 days after. Median age of participants was 55 years (range 29–80 years) and 78 percent were female.
The researchers found that there were side effects from cannabis including dizziness and drowsiness, which were reported in around one-third of the patients, compared with 7 percent on placebo. However, these symptoms were manageable according to the researchers, with benefits outweighing downsides.