Medicinal cannabis may have a significant impact on quality of life

A study of over 3000 patients being treated with medicinal cannabis in clinics around Australia has found that significant improvements in quality of life were reported across eight key health indicators. The research study, published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network Open, also presents further data that medicinal cannabis treatment may be associated with quality-of-life improvements across a range of health conditions.

Patients reported significant improvements in the indicators of social and emotional wellbeing, bodily pain and the ability to perform their day-to-day roles without physical or emotional limitations. The study was conducted by researchers from Swinburne University and Emyria.

What were the findings of the study?

Chronic pain is one of the most common health problems in the Australian population. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness, it affects 1 in 5 Australians over the age of 45. Those people are five times as likely to be limited in their daily activities.

The thorough and extensive research study analysed the experiences of 3148 patients who were treated for health conditions at Australian clinical network Emerald Clinics, for conditions including chronic non-cancer pain, cancer pain, insomnia and anxiety. Patients were followed up on a 1-2 month basis, on average, and would complete the 36-question Short Form Health Survey questionnaire, a widely used measure of health-related quality of life.

The Short Form Health Survey measures the experiences of patients across 8 key indicators:

  • Limitations in physical activities due to health problems
  • Limitations in social activities due to health problems
  • Limitations in usual role activities due to physical health problems
  • Limitations in usual role activities due to emotional health problems
  • Bodily pain
  • General mental health
  • Vitality (energy levels and fatigue)
  • General health perceptions

The answers given lead to assessment scores (out of 100) across the 8 above-mentioned health domains, and the study tracked changes in those scores over the period of medicinal cannabis treatment through as many as 15 follow-up appointments with specialists.

There was a recorded improvement in scores across all 8 indicators, with the highest changes recorded in social functioning (18.31), bodily pain (17.34), physical role limitations (16.81) and emotional role limitations (14.19). The lowest average recorded improvement was in limitations in physical activities due to health problems, or physical functioning (6.60).

What do the findings mean for the health sector?

Emyria Medical Director Dr Alistair Vickery says the findings of the study should encourage doctors and General Practitioners to give more consideration to referring appropriate patients with unmet health needs to specialists in medicinal cannabis treatments for care. “The evidence we’re generating continues to suggest that medicinal cannabis can help people struggling with conditions like chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety,” Dr Alistair Vickery said.

Dr Thomas Arkell, Research Fellow at Swinburne University
Dr Thomas Arkell, Research Fellow at Swinburne University

Commenting on the research, Lead author Dr Thomas Arkell, said, “while clinical evidence for medical cannabis efficacy is still in its infancy, this study shows that patients using medical cannabis do experience significant improvements in their daily life and wellbeing.”

“While there is still some reticence in the medical community to include medicinal cannabis in their treatment considerations, we hope that continued large-scale studies will convince those who might be on the fence that it is a worthwhile option that may have a significant impact on the quality of life of people with pain. By treating more patients, we are also able to gather more real-world evidence on the safety and effectiveness of medicinal cannabis.”

The full report is available here.