More than two-thirds of cancer patients who were prescribed medical marijuana to combat pain are reportedly satisfied with the treatment, according to a comprehensive study conducted for the first time in Israel.
The study – conducted recently at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, in conjunction with the Israel Cancer Association – involved 264 cancer patients who were treated with medical marijuana for a full year.
Some 61 percent of the respondents reported a significant improvement in their quality of life as a result of the medical marijuana, while 56 percent noted an improvement in their ability to manage pain. In general, 67 percent were in favor of the treatment, while 65 percent said they would recommend it to other patients.
The findings were presented earlier this month at an Israeli Oncologists Union conference in Eilat. The study was led by Dr. Ido Wolf, the director of oncology at the Sheba Cancer Center, with the assistance of researchers Yasmin Leshem, Damien Urbach, Adato Berliz, Tamar Ben Ephraim and Meital Gerty.
According to the study, the most common types of cancer for which medical marijuana is prescribed are lung cancer (21 percent ), breast cancer (12 percent ) and pancreatic cancer (10 percent ).
Researchers found that an average of 325 days passed between the time that patients were diagnosed with cancer and the time that they submitted permit requests to grow or possess medical marijuana. About 81 percent of those requests cited pain resulting from the illness. Some 8 percent of patients requested medical marijuana to combat nausea, while another 8 percent complained of weakness.
Most cancer patients who are currently being treated with medical marijuana are advised of the option only in the advanced stages of the illness, according to researchers. “The treatment should be offered to the patients in earlier stages of cancer,” the report notes.
The study shows that 39 percent of respondents were initially advised of the treatment by friends, other patients or the media, rather than by their doctors. According to the study, “The treatment should be offered to patients by trained medical teams because we are dealing with an effective treatment.”
Side effects resulting from the regular use of medical marijuana were defined in the study as “moderate.” Dizziness was the main side effect documented by the researchers.
According to Miri Ziv, the director of the Israel Cancer Association, “Medical marijuana has become one of the treatments available to cancer patients in Israel in recent years [and therefore] the association believes that the issue should be regulated by the professionals in the field.”
In recent years, the number of medical marijuana users in Israel has increased by some 66 percent per year, according to the study. To date, medical marijuana has been approved for use by about 6,000 Israelis suffering from various illnesses, the report states.
While many legal issues related to medical marijuana use remain unresolved, Health Ministry officials believe that once the issue is fully regulated, the number of patients treated with medical marijuana will reach 40,000.
Of the 12 farms authorized to cultivate medical marijuana in Israel, at least seven are currently active, according to the report. Under directives from the Health Ministry, the distribution centers currently in operation are entitled to NIS 360 a month, per patient, to supply medical marijuana. They are entitled to another NIS 24 for rolling cigarettes and NIS 100 for delivery.
Patients who hold medical marijuana permits issued before 2009 are entitled to grow up to 10 plants at home, with a maximum height of 1.5 meters. Permits issued during the past two years only allow patients to possess medical marijuana, in keeping with the quantities prescribed.
By Dan Even