WEDNESDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The main active
ingredient in marijuana seems to allow chemotherapy patients to
regain their ability to taste and enjoy food, according to the
results of a small new study.
The finding could potentially lead to treatments to help some
cancer patients restore their appetite.
Chemotherapy patients often lose the ability to smell and taste
food, which can cause them to lose an unhealthy amount of weight.
Researchers at several universities in Canada wondered if THC, a
component of marijuana, might help. After all, marijuana is known
to make users want to munch on food.
In the new study, Wendy Wismer, an associate professor at the
University of Alberta in Edmonton, and colleagues randomly assigned
21 patients to take THC in pill form (through an anti-nausea drug
called Marinol, known generically as dronabinol) or a placebo twice
daily for 18 days. The study results are published in the Feb. 22
online edition of the
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 placebos. The patients who took THC also reported
better sleep and relaxation.
"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 stated in a journal news release. "So, although THC did not significantly increase total calorie intake, the fact that it improved appetite and protein intake is important," she explained.
The study authors concluded that "THC may well contribute to the
overall enjoyment of food in cancer patients." It could also help
patients with a variety of symptoms, they noted, including pain,
inflammation, depression, anxiety and poor quality of sleep.
Commenting on the report, Dr. Donald I. Abrams, a professor of
clinical medicine who studies marijuana at the University of
California, San Francisco, said that the findings aren't
"earth-shattering," but they are good news for cancer patients.
However, he added, the drug probably won't get approved for this
use. As an alternative, "people might get similar benefits from
smoking cannabis," Abrams said.
For more on
chemotherapy, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.