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Cannabis Use Rates by People with Cancer Still Unclear




Warning: This information is for educational purposes only. We are not medical professionals, and no information on this website should be construed as medical advice. For more information please view our Medical Disclaimer. Please consult a medical professional if you are considering consuming cannabis products.

When citing examples for medical marijuana use, cancer is usually the number one example where the drug could be helpful. But recent research from the USA has found that people diagnosed with cancer are using less cannabis and use over time hasn’t increased as it has for recreational toking.

The results of the study, published in the journal of Cancer, found that only eight percent of cancer survivors reported using cannabis in the past year. This was compared to 15 percent of people of the general public who got high but didn’t have cancer, which seems like a lot rate.

Data were used from a nationally representative survey, between 2013 and 2018. They found that people suffering from greater levels of pain were associated with a higher likelihood of using cannabis. People of an older age and those with health insurance were found to engage in less cannabis use. 

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University worked on this paper — Virginia, South Dakota, and Connecticut legalized cannabis for recreational use just this summer. States have been legalizing cannabis for medical use from the 1990s to the 2000s. But recreational smoking started becoming legal in a couple of states in 2012. 

The low rates of toking reported in this paper may be due to the legality of the drug at the time. People being treated for cancer may not report this use if they are unsure of the status in their state.

People with breast cancer using much more marijuana

Other studies are finding completely different results though, with patients suffering from some cancers consuming more cannabis than the general population. 

In the USA, almost half of adults diagnosed with breast cancer report using cannabis finds a new study, also published in Cancer. Most often, cannabis was used alongside cancer treatment to manage symptoms and side effects, such as pain, fatigue, and nausea. 

This research included 612 adults diagnosed with breast cancer within the past five years, with 42 percent reporting using cannabis for relief of symptoms. Among those who got high, 75 percent reported that cannabis was extremely or very helpful at relieving their symptoms, including pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress, nausea, and vomiting. 

The researchers found that a wide range of products was being used, such as edibles, tinctures, and smokeables. But this meant that products were often of unknown quality and purity level. 

Most not discussing cannabis use with doctors

Among those people with breast cancer that used cannabis, half of the people did research looking for more information on the drug. Participants stated that the most helpful sources of information were websites and other patients. And people were generally unsatisfied with the information they received. 

Most patients are not discussing cannabis use with their doctors. Physicians ranked low in sources of helpful information. And patients have a reason to be dissatisfied as physicians felt that they lack the knowledge needed to discuss how to safely and appropriately use the plant. 

Healthcare systems are not going to be properly aware of key statistics in cannabis use if there are still issues around legalization and stigma. 

“Not knowing whether or not our cancer patients are using cannabis is a major blind spot in our ability to provide optimal care,” said lead author Marisa Weiss, MD, in a press release

“… as healthcare providers, we need to do a better job of initiating informed conversations about medical cannabis with our patients to make sure their symptoms and side effects are being adequately managed while minimizing the risk of potential adverse effects, treatment interactions, or non-adherence to standard treatments due to misinformation about the use of medical cannabis to treat cancer.”

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Lindsay is a freelance writer, editor, and podcast producer based between Canada and Portugal. She loves to travel and live around the world and learn about other cultures. She’s interested in the uses, histories, latest research, and innovations of the cannabis plant.

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