|The study's results won't come as a surprise to these Seattle medical marijuana activists, pictured here marching on May 2, 2009.|
A new Canadian study from the University of Alberta has found that small doses of an active ingredient in cannabis, THC, boost the appetites of terminal cancer patients, reports the Los Angeles Times.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence concerning pot and hunger, and researcher Prof. Wendy Wismer said she realizes that. But she defended her pilot study as being the first to be conducted under strict controls, and as such, the results are a valuable tool for researchers.
People with advanced cancer said food tasted better when they took THC compared with placebo sugar pills, the study showed, CBC News reports. Cancer patients commonly report decreased appetite and changes in their senses of taste and smell that can lead to weight loss and decreased survival. Thus marijuana-induced munchies can save lives by making food taste and smell better.
To explore whether THC actually improves taste and smell perception and appetite, researchers in Montreal and Edmonton tested THC and placebo capsules in 21 adults with cancer. Of these, 11 were randomly assigned to THC and 10 to placebo.
The participants all had advanced cancer, and they were all being treated with chemotherapy or had in the past.
The majority of those in the THC group -- 73 percent -- said their enjoyment of food increased, compared with 30 percent of those in the placebo group, Prof. Wismer and her colleagues reported in the February 22 online edition of the scientific journal Annals of Oncology.
The investigators found that those who received the THC were more likely to report that food "tasted better" and ate more protein, although they didn't eat more calories overall than those who took the placebo, reports US News.
The patients who took THC also reported better sleep and relaxation.
|Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology|
|Prof. Wendy Wismer: "Excited" about the possibility of using THC to improve cancer patients' quality of life|
"We know from our earlier work that individuals with advanced cancer have diminished appetite and have to make a big conscious effort to eat; they are motivated to eat simply to survive," Wismer said. "So, although THC did not significantly increase total calorie intake, the fact that it improved appetite and protein intake is important."
"Our findings are important as there is no accepted treatment for chemosensory alterations experienced by cancer patients," the study's authors concluded.
"THC treatment may hold multiple clinical benefits for cancer patients, beyond its indication as a treatment for nausea and its effects on appetite," the researchers wrote.
Wismer said she was "excited" about the possibility of using THC to improve patients' enjoyment of food, since it could improve their quality of life. It could help patients with a variety of symptoms, researchers noted, including pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety and poor quality of sleep.
The findings aren't "earth-shattering," said Dr. Donald I. Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine who studies marijuana at the University of California, San Francisco, but they are good news for cancer patients.
However, Dr. Abrams added, synthetic THC (Marinol, generic name dronabinol) probably won't be approved for increasing appetite (it is currently prescribed to cancer patients to combat the nausea caused by chemotherapy). As an alternative, Dr. Abrams suggested, "people might get similar benefits from smoking cannabis."
The University of Alberta study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Alberta Cancer Board, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, Natural Sciences and the Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Solvay Pharma Inc. provided the THC, placebo, and third party monitor but was not involved in the study design or dissemination of the results.