Marijuana-derived drug less effective than standard drug for improving appetite and weight in patients with advanced cancer

ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A drug derived from marijuana is not as effective as a standard drug for curbing loss of appetite and weight in patients with advanced cancer, according to a study conducted by Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG). The results of the study are published in this months Journal of Clinical Oncology.

This first-of-its-kind, large multi-institutional study found megestrol acetate, a standard drug for treating loss of appetite and weight in cancer patients, to be more effective than dronabinol (brand name Marinol), a drug derived from marijuana. The study also found that there was no notable benefit when both drugs were given together.

Anecdotal reports and previous small studies suggested that marijuana and its derivatives stimulate appetite, says Aminah Jatoi, M.D., a Mayo Clinic oncologist and researcher on the study. Our study found that dronabinol, in the doses prescribed in this trial, doesnt hold up to standard treatment with megestrol acetate.

These findings should dampen enthusiasm for using marijuana derivatives for this purpose, Dr. Jatoi (ja 'toy) added.

Seventy-five percent of the patients in the study taking megestrol acetate reported appetite improvement. This compared with only 49 percent of patients taking dronabinol reporting appetite improvement. Further, 11 percent of the patients on megestrol acetate, compared with only 3 percent on dronabinol, gained more than 10 percent of their baseline weight.

Loss of appetite and weight is a major problem, affecting more than half of patients with advanced cancer. Its also an understudied problem.

Nobody knows all of the factors that come into play as cancer patients lose weight, says Dr. Jatoi. This study was an attempt to help cancer patients by finding some answers about what works and what doesnt work for those struggling with eating.

To our knowledge, this is the first study to compa

Contact: Mary Lawson
Mayo Clinic

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