Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol may palliate altered chemosensory perception in cancer patients: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial

Ann Oncol. 2011 Sep;22(9):2086-2093. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdq727. Epub 2011 Feb 22.


Background: A pilot study (NCT00316563) to determine if delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can improve taste and smell (chemosensory) perception as well as appetite, caloric intake, and quality of life (QOL) for cancer patients with chemosensory alterations.

Patients and methods: Adult advanced cancer patients, with poor appetite and chemosensory alterations, were recruited from two sites and randomized in a double-blinded manner to receive either THC (2.5 mg, Marinol(®); Solvay Pharma Inc., n = 24) or placebo oral capsules (n = 22) twice daily for 18 days. Twenty-one patients completed the trial. At baseline and posttreatment, patients completed a panel of patient-reported outcomes: Taste and Smell Survey, 3-day food record, appetite and macronutrient preference assessments, QOL questionnaire, and an interview.

Results: THC and placebo groups were comparable at baseline. Compared with placebo, THC-treated patients reported improved (P = 0.026) and enhanced (P < 0.001) chemosensory perception and food 'tasted better' (P = 0.04). Premeal appetite (P = 0.05) and proportion of calories consumed as protein increased compared with placebo (P = 0.008). THC-treated patients reported increased quality of sleep (P = 0.025) and relaxation (P = 0.045). QOL scores and total caloric intake were improved in both THC and placebo groups.

Conclusions: THC may be useful in the palliation of chemosensory alterations and to improve food enjoyment for cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Olfactory Perception / drug effects*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Placebos
  • Quality of Life
  • Taste Perception / drug effects*


  • Placebos
  • Dronabinol

Associated data