New Study Finds a Quarter of Cancer Patients Use Medical Marijuana
Posted by Glenn Beierle on 10/20/2017 in Research and Studies
Updated on December 18, 2017. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
When Dr. Steven Pergam and his team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center set out to learn more about medical marijuana and its usage among cancer patients, they were unsure about what they’d find. What they discovered both surprised — and concerned — them as they noted a high interest in medical weed among patients, but a low interaction among doctors with their patients when it came to discussing it as a treatment.
What the Study Uncovered About Medical Marijuana
Studies concerning medical marijuana use are limited due to state laws, as well as federal regulations. The goal of Dr. Pergam and his team of researchers was to change that, by studying medical weed’s use in cancer patients and finding answers to the following questions:
- How many patients use medical cannabis?
- What do they treat with it?
- How do they administer it?
- What influence does its legalization have on their use?
- Where do they learn about medical marijuana?
While based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Pergam organized and conducted the study at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance. It’s important to note, in Washington state recreational and medical cannabis is legal.
After surveying more than 900 patients over a six-week period, the team found up to one quarter of cancer patients use medical weed. Now, the usage rate did vary, with researchers finding the percentages varied based on when the patients last used marijuana:
- In the past: 66 percent
- In the last year: 24 percent
- In the last month: 21 percent
- In the past week: 18 percent
Urine samples confirmed the statements made by patients, with 14 percent of the samples showing recent medical marijuana use, which aligns with the percentage of respondents that cited medical weed use in the last week.
What Patients Use Medical Marijuana For
The next series of questions Dr. Pergam and his team wanted to answer was why and how patients use medical cannabis. Through their survey, they found that cancer patients chose to use medical pot to treat both physical and psychological issues, including:
Physical symptoms were the biggest reason for use, according to 75 percent of patients. Around 63 percent chose it as a treatment due to psychological discomfort. More than half of respondents found that medical weed provided a significant benefit, with another 39 percent citing the benefit as moderate.
To consume medical cannabis, respondents cited several inhalation and ingestion methods, including:
- Baked goods
Around 40 percent of patients used both inhalation and ingestion methods.
Where Patients Learn About Medical Pot
Dr. Pergam and his team’s decision to learn about where, or from whom, patients find information about medical marijuana has proven insightful, as it sheds light on a lack of discussion between patients and their physicians.
Moost respondents wanted to learn more about medical weed, with 74 percent preferring that information came from their cancer team — yet less than 15 percent received information from their doctor or nurse. Instead, patients turned to the following to learn more:
- Magazine or newspaper articles
- Websites or blogs
- Fellow cancer patients
What’s disheartening is that more than a third of respondents did not receive any information. These results bring to the forefront a critical issue, as doctors are supposed to be a trusted reference for discussing treatment options — including medical marijuana.
Why Medical Weed Is Growing as a Viable Treatment Option
While studies related to medical cannabis are limited, looking at them shows why it’s growing as a treatment option. These studies also demonstrate why patients have such a high interest in learning more about it.
When it comes to using medical weed for cancer, several studies indicate its effectiveness. Multiple research efforts, for instance, show medical pot can help with side effects resulting from cancer and its treatments, including:
One federal-funded study on medical cannabis, cancer and discomfort saw 10 out of 16 participants experience a 30 percent drop in their pain levels. Leading organizations, like the National Cancer Institute, also cite medical pot as being effective for blocking cancer cell growth and stopping the formation of blood vessels to tumors.
The effectiveness of medical marijuana, as well as patient interest in it, is also demonstrated by the growth of the medical weed industry. By 2025, it’s anticipated to grow to $55.8 billion. Today, it’s valued at $11.4 billion, indicating that this is a medicine patients want among their treatment options.
How Doctors and State Legislators Limit Patient Treatment
Why are legislators and doctors limiting patient access to medical weed then? For many physicians, medical marijuana was not a part of their curriculum in medical school, leaving them in the dark about its use, side effects and dosage.
It’s critical all doctors learn about this medicine. By doing so, they can have comprehensive treatment discussions with their patients. Marijuana is a medicine, and a patient’s primary source of information about it shouldn’t be the internet — it should be their physician.
While some patients have the option to discuss medical weed with their doctors, those in the more than 20 states where marijuana is still considered a felony drug do not. By continuing to have the viewpoint that medical weed is not a medicine, legislators and state governments are preventing people from alleviating their pain and their discomfort.
That must change, and with studies like Dr. Pergam’s, the medical community can further demonstrate that marijuana is a medicine and deserves to be recognized by all physicians and made accessible to all patients in the U.S.
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