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September 25, 2017

Study finds up to one-quarter of cancer patients use marijuana

A new study has found that up to 25 percent of cancer patients are using marijuana.

The research, conducted at a cancer center in Washington state, which has legalized medical and recreational marijuana, also revealed that legalization increases the likelihood of use among patients. The study was published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

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Most patients used the drug to treat physical or psychological symptoms, including pain, nausea, stress, depression and insomnia.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and more than half the states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have passed laws allowing for medical marijuana in some form. As availability and acceptance of marijuana use continue to increase, many cancer patients will have greater access to marijuana during their cancer treatment.

Marijuana is believed to alleviate symptoms related to cancer treatment, but patterns of use among cancer patients are not well-known. To investigate, Dr. Steven Pergam, MPH, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and his colleagues surveyed 926 patients at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance.

Researchers discovered that most patients had a strong interest in learning about marijuana during treatment and 74 percent wanted information from cancer care providers. Sixty-six percent had used marijuana in the past, 24 percent used in the last year, and 21 percent used in the last month.

The study reports that random analysis of patient urine samples showed that 14 percent had evidence of recent cannabis use, similar to the 18 percent of users who reported use within the past week.

Although nearly all respondents wanted more information directly from their doctors, most reported that they were more likely to get information from sources outside of the health care system.

"Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information from their cancer doctors about marijuana use during their treatment, so many of them are seeking information from alternate non-scientific sources," Pergam said in a news release, stressing that marijuana may be dangerous for some cancer patients or lead to unwanted side effects.

"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. This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere."

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