THC Increases Cancer Patients Appetite

Summary
A recent Canadian study examined the effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, on the sensation of taste and smell, in patients suffering from different types of cancer. Completed on 21 patients over an 18-day period, the study also explored the effect of THC on the appetite and the protein intake in these patients. It looked into the quality of sleep and relaxation in these same patients. The researchers reported that THC can improve the sensation of smell and taste, as well as help to improve appetite and quality of sleep, leading to better relaxation.

Introduction
Patients suffering from advanced stages of cancer are known to have poor appetite, which leads to loss of weight and deterioration in other functions. Their quality of life also decreases. Researchers are working at improving appetite and other quality of life measures in these patients, through different means. THC has been reported to play a role in improving appetite in these patients. THC might induce better food intake by stimulating the orosensory pathway, thus encouraging the patients to eat more food and enjoy it too.  In this study, the researchers compared the effects of THC and a placebo. The aim of this study was to note the change in the sensation of taste and smell, as well as appetite, induced by the intake of THC or a placebo. They also tested how THC can improve choice of foods and the total quantity of food intake in the patients.

Methodology
* Forty-six patients suffering from cancer of advanced stage were divided into two groups. Patients in one group were given THC and those in the other group received the placebo over an 18-day period.
* Patients were allowed to have concomitant radiotherapy and chemotherapy, as long as therapy related side effects did not occur.
* With the help of questionnaires and physician-based interviews, the patients were assessed on food smell, taste, appetite, and food intake, and also on quality of sleep and relaxation.

Results
* Twenty-one patients completed the study. A dosing protocol was followed for eight patients and the dose was increased for three patients. In the placebo group, seven patients followed the dosing protocol and three increased their dose to three capsules per day
* Seventy-three percent of patients receiving THC reported greater appreciation of food while only 30 percent of placebo-treated patients reported such enhancement.
* Among the placebo-treated, 50 percent reported decrease in appetite while 64 percent of those on THC reported a better appetite. In the placebo group, 8 percent of the patients reported that the taste sensation was the same as or worse than before.
* Quality of sleep and relaxation were more frequently reported to be “pleasant” by THC treated patients, as compared with those treated with placebo.

Shortcomings
This was a pilot study conducted on a very small number of patients and had a large drop out rate. A larger sample group is required to verify and substantiate the result.  In this study, initial low dosage was gradually increased on the basis of individual requirements. Absorption of oral THC also varies considerably in cancer patients and HIV patients. Patients may be required to determine their own doses and compare them regularly. Studies need to be conducted on a larger number of patients and at many centers, to develop strategies for appetite improvement and better energy intake for patients.

Conclusion
Loss of appetite is a frequent problem in patients with end-stage cancer. This may be a result of the disease or a side effect of the drugs used for treatment. The present pilot study has reported some usefulness of THC in these patients. According to the study, higher number of patients treated with THC reported better appetite and sense of smell (of food), as compared with those who received similar capsules without any active ingredients. The study also found that when treated with THC, many patients reported that their food started tasting better.  Specifically, the THC treated patients reported a higher preference for protein-rich foods, which are a healthy option. The THC treated patients reported better sleep quality and relaxation, as compared with those who received placebo. THC needs to be studied as a treatment option for improving the quality of life for end-stage patients.

For More Information:
Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol May Palliate Altered Chemosensory Perception in Cancer Patients
Publication Journal: Annals of Oncology, February 2011
By T. D Brisbois; I.H. de Kock; University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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