Cannabis ingredient 'restores taste buds and lost pleasure in food to cancer patients
The ingredient that gives cannabis its 'high' can help cancer patients recover their sense of taste, researchers say.
A group of patients who had been treated with chemotherapy for advanced cancer were given capsules that either contained THC - the psychoactive chemical in cannabis - or dummy lookalike pills.
The 21 volunteers took the tablets for 18 days and were then asked to fill in questionnaires.
Researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, found 73 per cent of those who took THC reported an increased liking for food, compared to 30 per cent of the placebo group.
Just over half of the THC takers said the medication 'made food taste better' compared to one in 10 of the control group.
While both groups consumed roughly the same amount of calories during the trial, the THC patients said they ate more protein and enjoyed savoury foods more.
The THC-takers also reported better quality of sleep and relaxation than in the placebo group.
While the experiment is small scale it is the first to explore the touted qualities of THC through random selection of volunteers and use of a 'control' group by which to make a comparison.
Lead investigator Professor Wendy Wismer said the findings were important because cancer, or its treatment, can cripple appetite and lead to dangerous weight loss.
Many cancer patients eat less as they say meat smells and tastes unpleasant following treatment.
'For a long time, everyone has thought that nothing could be done about this,' Professor Wismer said.
'Indeed, cancer patients are often told to 'cope' with chemosensory problems by eating bland, cold and colourless food. This may well have the result of reducing food intake and food enjoyment.'
Professor Wismer said that doctors should consider THC treatment for cancer patients suffering from loss of taste, smell and appetite.
THC was well tolerated, and in terms of side effects there were no differences between the THC and placebo groups, which suggests that long-term therapy is also an option, she said.
Cannabis is a Class B drug in the UK and is illegal to have, give away or sell.
The study appears in the journal Annals of Oncology, published by the European Society for Medical Oncology.