Daily dose of THC could increase survival time in palliative care patients

Cannabis Health
Thu, May 16

Researchers investigating the effects of THC in advanced cancer patients say it could be associated with not only increased survival time, but also improved quality of life in those final days. 

THC is sometimes prescribed to manage the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, with beneficial effects such as reducing pain, anxiety and nausea, while increasing appetite. However, it is not yet known whether the cannabinoid has any effect on life expectancy or mortality in this patient group.

In this new study, researchers evaluated the impact of THC dosing in a cohort of 9,419 advanced cancer patients enrolled in Specialized Palliative Outpatient Care (SAPC).

SAPC offers home-based care for patients with advanced and progressive diseases whose life expectancies are limited to days, weeks, or months. Data from five ambulatory palliative care teams in Brandenburg were included in the analysis.

Researchers calculated survival time for three groups of patients. One group received no THC, one had a low dose of THC (less than 4.7mg per day) and the other was given a daily dose of THC higher than 4.7mg.

After analysing the results, they found that survival time was ‘significantly prolonged by THC’, but only when the daily THC dose was above 4.7mg.

The researchers state: “The data of the study show an significant impact of THC on survival in ambulatory palliative care patients which survive the prescription by at least seven days and use more than 4.7 mg/day. 

“Median survival time was prolonged by 15 days in what is probably the most suitable patient group (cohort 2) – from survival time of 25 days without THC therapy to 40 days with a daily THC dose higher than 4.7 mg per day. This prolongation by more than 2 weeks can be considered substantial.”

Alongside the increased survival time, patients also demonstrated an improved quality of life and increased activity.

They add: “In addition to mere survival, patients with THC become more mentally and physically active, which is also in accordance with the pharmacological effects of THC and other cannabinoids. The increased activity and improved quality of life might enable the patients to renew social contact with relatives and friends and to settle essential affairs before dying.”

However, the authors highlight a number of limitations with the study, including the retrospective design, reliance on real-world data and differences between the patient groups and how THC was used by each treatment centre. 

They have recommended more rigorous research be carried out investigating this and caution that the results should not be discussed in relation to any potential anti-cancer effects of THC.

“We explicitly do not want to discuss any anti-cancer effects of THC and CBM, respectively,” they add.

“THC was used in the terminal phase with short survival times in which anti-cancer effects – if at all – are most unlikely to be effective.”