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Are Cannabis-Based Medicines Safe for Children With Cancer?
  • Posted August 28, 2023

Are Cannabis-Based Medicines Safe for Children With Cancer?

Nineteen scientific studies have failed to answer a big question: Are cannabis-containing products safe or effective for kids with cancer?

A new analysis of the studies found the evidence just isn't there to determine dosing, safety and efficacy of medical marijuana or cannabis-containing products for managing symptoms experienced by these kids.

“It was difficult to measure benefit across studies, given a range of different outcomes and study designs; however, in interventional studies with active control groups, cannabinoids performed better in managing nausea and vomiting. Data are lacking on cannabinoids' effects on pain, mood, sleep, and health-related quality of life,” said lead study author Lauren Kelly. She is associate professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

“Given that some children report benefits and some children experience adverse events, it is critical that more rigorous studies evaluating the effects of cannabinoids on children with cancer are conducted and shared with parents, patients, and the health care community,” she added.

While treatments for childhood cancer have improved, many kids still have pain, anxiety and weight loss from their illness and their treatments.

Cannabis products have gained popularity with patients and families for managing symptoms, but pediatric oncologists are wary to authorize cannabis for their patients because of limited data.

This new review sought to provide insight.

The researchers identified 19 unique studies with a total of 1,927 participants who had cancer. They included randomized controlled clinical trials; open-label studies, in which participants knew what drug they were receiving; retrospective chart reviews; and case reports.

In those studies, the investigators looked at medical-grade cannabinoids, including the prescription drug nabilone; synthetic cannabinoids; and unspecified cannabis herbal extracts. These products were most commonly used to manage chemotherapy‐induced nausea and vomiting.

In the randomized trials, patients who used cannabinoids were more likely to experience drowsiness, feeling high, dizziness and dry mouth. They were also nearly four times more likely to leave the study due to adverse events compared with the control group who received an inactive placebo.

No serious cannabis‐related adverse events were reported in any of the studies, the research team noted.

The findings were published online Aug. 28 in CANCER, a journal of the American Cancer Society.

Researchers should develop standards for reporting cannabis exposures, cannabis‐related effects and patient outcomes, Kelly said in a journal news release.

A study of cannabinoids will begin recruiting 60 participants for a tolerability trial this coming winter.

More information

The Children's Hospital of Orange County has more on side effects of cancer treatments in children.

SOURCE: Cancer, news release, Aug. 28, 2023

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