The active ingredient in marijuana can restore the appetite of terminal cancer patients who have lost their taste for food, according to new Canadian research.
The study involved 21 patients. Some of them were given pills containing THC - or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive cannabis compound that makes people feel "high." The rest were given look-a-like dummy pills. (The dosing was timed so that the psychoactive effects peeked while the volunteers were asleep, minimizing the chances they would be able to guess if they had been given the real thing.)
After 18 days of treatment, 73 per cent of those who got the THC reported a greater overall appreciation of food, compared to only 30 per cent who felt that way among those given the placebos.
The lead researcher, Wendy Wismer of the University of Alberta, said it's no secret that healthy people who use cannabis get the "munchies" - what essentially amounts to a boost in their appetite.
"But we are investigating this action in a population of individuals who really don't experience any appetite," she said in explaining the significance of the research. The study, published in Annals of Oncology, showed that those given the THC still consumed the same number of calories as the placebo group.
However, "it improved the taste of the food they did eat," Dr. Wismer said. And the consumed more protein. The benefit of THC amounts to "enjoying the life that is remaining."
The THC-treated patients also reported a better quality of sleep and felt more relaxed than the placebo group.