1 Out Of 4 Cancer Patients Are Turning To Cannabis

Researcher warns medical community to start educating patients or they will seek information elsewhere.

Cancer Patients
Photo by sudok1/Getty Images

If marijuana is legalized, cancer patients will choose it as their preferred medicine, according to a new survey from one of the nation’s leading cancer research facilities.

A team of researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, based in Seattle, Wash., surveyed 926 cancer patients and found that roughly 25 percent of them used cannabis as a medicinal therapy in the past year. The results were published on Monday in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

The groundbreaking study concluded:

This study of cancer patients in a state with legalized cannabis found high rates of active use across broad subgroups, and legalization was reported to be important in patients’ decision to use. Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information about cannabis use during their treatment from oncology providers.

Most cancer patients report that cannabis helps them with pain, nausea, stress, depression, insomnia and other conditions. But patients are frustrated by the lack of information they receive from the American health care system. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals lack training and education in cannabis science.

“More than half of active users reported that legalization significantly increased their likelihood of using, and cannabis use was spread across demographic subsets, including age, sex, and cancer diagnosis subsets,” the study finds.

According to the research:

  • The median age of those surveyed was 58.
  • 74 percent of the patients wanted information from cancer providers and had a strong interest in learning about cannabis during treatment.
  • 24 percent used cannabis as a medical therapy in the past year.
  • 21 percent self-treated with cannabis in the past month.
  • 70 percent inhaled (smoked or vaped) their medicine.
  • 70 percent consumed edibles.
  • 40 percent did both.
  • 75 percent reported their primary use was for physical pain.
  • 64 percent used it for neuropsychiatric symptoms.

“We hope that this study helps to open up the door for more studies aimed at evaluating the risks and benefits of marijuana in this population,” said study author Dr. Steven Pergam. “This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere.”

The American Cancer Society concedes that more research is needed on marijuana as a treatment for cancer symptoms. The organization has said that properties in marijuana have the potential to combat cancer cells.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states; adult recreational use is legal in eight states. Washington, where the study was conducted, allows both.

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