20% of cancer patients surveyed reportedly use cannabis

Published Nov 24, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Murilo Gualda

The World Health Organization has estimated that one out of every six deaths globally are caused by cancer. Cancer in the eyes of the WHO is the second leading cause of death worldwide. According to recent studies, a growing number of people who live with cancer are turning to alternative medicine like cannabis as a supplement to their medication regime. According to one survey, the number one choice for 20 percent of people living with cancer is marijuana.

Numbers count

A recent survey by researchers at Beaumont Hospital Office of Hematology and Oncology looked at cancer patients who incorporate medical cannabis with their cancer treatment. One hundred eighty-eight cancer patients, some of whom are registered medical cannabis users, were involved in the study. Initially, the survey was delivered to 327 cancer patients, and only 188 returned the survey. The study results are from 2018, however, the study’s results were not released until recently.

A median baseline symptom score was higher in the cancer patients who used medical cannabis than it was for those who did not. The score ranged from the best being 8 to the worst at 32. The pain seemed to be when the patients indicated to have the highest frequency of improvement with 34/42 (81%) reporting a reduction in symptoms. For appetite, 34/44 (77.3%), and anxiety 32/44 (73.3%) saw a positive difference. Medical cannabis improved the ability to tolerate cancer treatment in 24/44 patients (54.5%).

Discussing with doctors

The survey pointed out that doctors need to be on board and more comfortable when talking with cancer patients about medical cannabis for cancer treatment. There is growing proof that medical marijuana is a safe and potentially effective additive to conventional medications prescribed for palliative cancer patients.

Should you recommend cannabis to patients?

Cancer patients are living with difficult choices as part of their daily living. Loved ones need to be mindful of what suggestions they make regarding treatment, but cannabis should always be openly discussed. Treatments for your loved ones need to be spoken about in a thoughtful approach. Often the patient is facing possible death.

Several studies have indicated that medical cannabis can be an effective treatment for cancer. However, much more documented research needs to be conducted to confirm that medical cannabis can be an essential cancer treatment tool. The patient must know that medical cannabis is not a cure for cancer, so one needs to be careful in the verbiage they are using when discussing cannabis as a supplement for treating the disease. A doctor must never give a patient false hope.

Final words

Health professionals and those involved in cancer patients' lives should be respectful when considering suggesting medical cannabis therapy as part of the treatment regime that they will follow. Offering to assist them with research on how medical cannabis can be beneficial to them is a good start. Assisting in their decision to use medical cannabis (or not) through the journey of living with cancer is a positive step towards helping the cancer patient make decisions. Twenty percent of those involved in the study have reported that including medical cannabis has proven to deliver positive results in their patients’ daily lives.

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