Pain is one of the many awful symptoms that comes with cancer, caused by both the disease and its treatment, particularly chemotherapy. Stemming from inflammation, nerve injury, or damage to bone or other pain-sensitive structures, cancer pain is notoriously severe and long-lasting. Unfortunately, it rarely responds to the most powerful conventional painkillers, opioids1.
When traditional medications aren’t working, patients with cancer lose more than their health. It can be crushing to hear from their doctors that there are no other options. Watch below to hear what happened when a patient with ovarian cancer received support to try cannabis as an alternative.
This patient’s quality of life improved dramatically when she began to use cannabis and found relief from the crippling pain, nausea and overwhelming fatigue caused by her cancer and chemotherapy. Having access to medical cannabis and a physician who was well-versed in using it as an option for cancer patients gave her a precious opportunity to be present and engaged in her final weeks.
There is strong evidence from several studies that cannabis can be effective at relieving chronic pain in adults, particularly neuropathic (nerve) pain, which is a common component of cancer pain2. Early studies using dronabinol (a synthetic form of THC) showed it reduced pain in patients suffering from pain in advanced stages of cancer. More recent studies looked at the effects of nabiximols (a drug developed from whole-plant cannabis with a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD) on cancer-related pain that wasn’t responding to opioid therapy. Results of these studies have been promising. One study found the group receiving nabiximols had better pain relief than the placebo group, with twice as many patients saying it reduced pain by 30%3. In other studies, nabiximols was also more effective than placebos, though the difference was not big enough to be considered statistically significant4 5 6.
Learn More: Using Cannabis for Chronic Pain
Nabiximols may be helpful for cancer pain, but there is not a strong enough case yet for it to be clinically approved for use. Despite this, nabiximols is approved in Canada with some conditions: it can be used as an add-on pain reliever in adults with advanced cancer who haven’t responded to strong opioid therapy.
As cannabis research moves forward, it will hopefully open more doors for cancer patients to explore options and get much needed relief.
 Abrams DI. The therapeutic effects of Cannabis and cannabinoids: An update from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report. Eur J Intern Med. 2018;49:7-11.
 Johnson JR, Burnell-Nugent M, Lossignol D, Ganae-Motan ED, Potts R. Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of THC:CBD extract and THC extract in patients with intractable cancer-related pain. Journal of pain and symptom management. 2010;39(2):167-179.
 Portenoy RK, Ganae-Motan ED, Allende S, et al. Nabiximols for opioid-treated cancer patients with poorly-controlled chronic pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled, graded-dose trial. J Pain. 2012;13(5):438-449.
 Lichtman AH, Lux EA, McQuade R, Rossetti S, Sanchez R. Results of a Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study of Nabiximols Oromucosal Spray as an Adjunctive Therapy in Advanced Cancer Patients with Chronic Uncontrolled Pain. Journal of pain and symptom management. 2018;55(2):179-188.e171.
 Fallon MT, Albert Lux E, McQuade R, et al. Sativex oromucosal spray as adjunctive therapy in advanced cancer patients with chronic pain unalleviated by optimized opioid therapy: two double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase 3 studies. British Journal of Pain. 2017;11(3):119-133.