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Majority Of Pediatricians Support Medical Marijuana For Kids With Cancer

A new survey shows a huge majority of doctors who treat children with cancer would be willing to prescribe medical marijuana to aid in their treatment.

Results of the survey, published in Pediatrics, shows 85 percent of pediatric oncologists certified to provide medical marijuana (MM) would be willing to help children with cancer access it, and 95 percent of their colleagues who aren’t able to provide MM would also provide it if they could.

But medical marijuana still remains controversial. Even the doctors who could provide young patients with MM were less likely to indicate approval of patient use by smoking, oral formulations, as cancer-directed therapy, or to manage symptoms, according to the survey. These same doctors do, however, seem to be very interested in supporting more testing on MM’s effects. They were also found to be more supportive of the drug’s use if the child were declining in health or critically ill.

One pediatric oncologist working on this research is Prasanna Annath at Yale School of Medicine. She says:

Several studies over the past decade have ascertained that physicians are apprehensive about adult use of medical marijuana. This reluctance appears to be driven by the potential for side effects, scant high-quality scientific data, unclear dosage guidelines and a lack of regulatory oversight by the FDA, unlike other therapeutic and supportive care drugs.

She says because of the stigma surrounding children and young adults using medical marijuana, “recommending medical marijuana may thus be fundamentally problematic for physicians who are accustomed to evidence-based practice, as they cannot be assured by empirical data that benefits outweigh possible harm.”

For the study, researchers sent a cross-sectional survey of 654 pediatric oncology providers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington characterizing MM practices, knowledge, attitudes, and barriers. Nearly half of recipients responded (48 percent) and 44 percent were included in analyses.

Forty-six percent of all providers cited the absence of standards around formulations, potency, or dosing to be the greatest barrier to recommending MM.

And even though 80 percent of respondents cited not having any concerns over legal prosecution for getting their patients MM, the biggest hindrance seems to be “the absence of standards” for MM formulations, dosages or strength. Researchers conclude: “Given burgeoning interest in medical marijuana, especially in oncology care, it is critical that providers who are routinely approached for access to medical marijuana possess baseline knowledge on regulations, known benefits and harm.”

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