The oral spray reduced pain levels by 30 per cent in a group of cancer patients who had not been helped by morphine or other medicines, researchers found.
The team at the University of Edinburgh hopes that the treatment could be used alongside traditional painkillers in future.
Researchers tested the cannabis-based medicine in 177 patients over a two-week period.
The 30 per cent reduction in pain reported by patients is viewed by doctors as a significant improvement in their quality of life.
Doctors say the spray works by activating molecules in the body called cannabinoid receptors. When triggered by cannabis, these receptors can stop nerve signals being transmitted from the site of pain to the brain.
The medical spray has been developed so that it does not affect the mental state of the patient, in the way normally associated with cannabis consumption.
The authors warn that the results do not support the recreational smoking of cannabis, which can increase risk of cancer.
The research is published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.
Professor Marie Fallon, from the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre at University of Edinburgh, who led the study, said: “These early results are very promising and demonstrate that cannabis-based medicines may deliver effective treatment for people with severe pain.
“Prescription of these drugs can be very useful in combating debilitating pain, but it is important to understand the difference between their medical and recreational use.”
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