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Oncologists Want More Information About Medical Marijuana

medical marijuana spills out of prescription bottle

According to a nationwide survey, most oncologists have discussed medical marijuana use with their patients, however, most also say they do not feel they have enough information to make a well-informed decision about prescribing it. The study, published May 10, 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is the first nationally representative survey to examine oncologists’ attitudes about medical marijuana since it became legal in some states.

The survey looked at how doctors view the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana, explored how they discuss medical marijuana use with their patients, and asked if they felt they have enough knowledge to make recommendations to patients.

Researchers from Boston mailed surveys to 400 medical oncologists and got 237 back. Among the findings:

  • 30% felt informed enough to make recommendations about medical marijuana
  • 80% have discussed medical marijuana with patients; most discussions were initiated by patients
  • 46% have recommended medical marijuana to patients
  • 67% viewed medical marijuana as a helpful pain management aid
  • 65% believed medical marijuana was at least as helpful as standard treatment for unintended weight loss

About medical marijuana

Medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and Washington DC, and most list cancer among the reasons it can be prescribed.

Medical marijuana products are made from the cannabis plant or its chemicals and are not available through drug stores. These products may be recommended by some health care providers to treat symptoms of certain illnesses. Most of these products are whole-plant marijuana, which contains hundreds of active ingredients that can have different effects on the body. However, no randomized clinical trial has studied the use of whole-plant marijuana to treat cancer-related side effects, which may include pain, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.

There have been studies on what are known as pharmaceutical cannabinoids, which are synthetic types of cannabis. Pharmaceutical cannabinoids are available by prescription only, and approved for use with some conditions, including nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.  But these highly refined cannabinoids contain only a few active ingredients and may not have the same effects as medical marijuana.

Next steps

The study authors call for clinical trials to provide oncologists with information that would help them better understand the benefits and risks of medical marijuana when making treatment decisions with their patients and answering their questions.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Medical Oncologists’ Beliefs, Practices, and Knowledge Regarding Marijuana Used Therapeutically: A Nationally Representative Survey Study. Published May 10, 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. First author Ilana M. Braun, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.