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Study Finds Most Cancer Survivors Who Used Cannabis Reported “Great Symptomatic Improvement”

woman with cancer showing strength with her arms in the open air

Prevalence, reasons for use, perceived benefits and knowledge of health risks of cannabis use among cancer survivors – implications for policy and interventions

A new study of 1 cancer survivors found that nearly half currently use or have used cannabis in the past, with most of those who used cannabis after their diagnosis saying they did so for manage symptoms such as sleep disturbances and pain. About a fifth of cancer survivors reported “currently using cannabis for symptomatic relief during active cancer treatment.”

Published late last month in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, the study said the prevalence of cannabis use among cancer survivors “was remarkable, with most reporting great improvement in symptoms for the specified reason.”

Among all participants, 17,4% were current cannabis users, 30,5% were former users, and 52,2% reported never using marijuana. Of the 510 respondents (27%) who used cannabis after their cancer diagnosis, 60% reported using it to manage sleep disorders, followed by pain (51%), stress (44%), nausea (33%) and mood disorders or depression (32%).

“Cannabis use among cancer survivors is notable, with a predominant proportion of survivors reporting substantial improvement in symptoms.”

“Additionally, approximately one-fifth (91/510) of cancer survivors used cannabis to treat their cancer,” says the study.

The majority of patients reported that the use of cannabis was effective in treating symptoms. Among those who used it to treat nausea, for example, 73,6% said it was “to a great extent” effective, while 24,4% said it was “somewhat” effective. Only 1,9% said it had “very little” effectiveness, and virtually none said it was “not at all” effective.

Similar results were seen for depression, appetite, pain, sleep, stress and general disease management. In each case, more than half of respondents said cannabis was helpful “to a great extent,” while between half and a quarter said it was “somewhat” effective. Small fractions, at most about 5%, reported “very little” or no benefit.

When it came to cancer treatment itself, responses were slightly less enthusiastic. Just under half (47,7%) called cannabis “to a large extent” effective, 34,5% said it was “somewhat” helpful, 13,8% said it it offered “very little” benefit and only 4% said it was “not at all” useful.

“Among survivors who used cannabis to improve nausea and vomiting, 74% (131/179) perceived it helped to a large extent.”

The four-author research team, from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, also found that awareness of potential health risks related to marijuana was quite low among respondents, only about 1 in 10 indicating awareness of these risks when asked: “Were or are you aware of any potential health risks associated with cannabis/marijuana during your cancer treatment?”

“Only a few were aware of the health risks of using cannabis during cancer care,” the study says. “Of the 167 survivors who reported being aware of the risks health potential associated with cannabis use, awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use was low: suicidal thoughts (5%), intense nausea and vomiting (6%), depression (11%), anxiety (14%), respiratory problems (31%). %) and interaction with cancer drugs (35%).”

In light of the possibility that some people might use cannabis to treat symptoms without fully knowing the medication's possible side effects, the study encourages medical advice to integrate the discussion of medical cannabis into the broader context of treatment. 'a patient.

“With most survivors reporting benefits from cannabis use in cancer management, more studies are needed to strengthen the current evidence base for cannabis therapeutics,” she says. “Additionally, there is a need for clear cannabis policies, guidelines and educational programs for healthcare providers and survivors addressing the use, benefits and risks of cannabis in cancer care.”

“Healthcare providers should engage survivors in discussions about the current state of evidence regarding the use of cannabis during cancer treatment“, she adds, “to help them make informed decisions about their health.”

This study is part of a growing trend of research exploring how cannabis is currently used – and how it might be used in the future – to manage cancer-related symptoms. In late October, for example, the University at Buffalo announced that one of its psychiatrists had received a $3,2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund a year-long study of how immunotherapy, a common cancer treatment, is affected by patients' use of cannabis.

In May of last year, a University of Colorado study using marijuana products from state-licensed dispensaries found that patients under chemotherapy who regularly used cannabis during a two-week period reported not only a reduction in pain, but also clearer thinking.

The American Medical Association (AMA) also released research in late 2022 that linked state-level cannabis legalization to a reduction in opioid prescribing for some cancer patients.

This new study comes as patients, researchers and observers await action from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regarding an ongoing review of marijuana's regulatory status under the Controlled Substances Act. federal. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended last August that the DEA reclassify cannabis, apparently by classifying it as Schedule III.

The move would still not legalize medical marijuana or recreational cannabis programs at the federal level, but it would pave the way for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of cannabis-based medications and increase profits for cannabis companies. medical marijuana that are currently ineligible for standard tax deductions under the federal tax code.

On Wednesday, the DEA said in a succinct letter to lawmakers about the requalification process that the agency reserves “final authority” to make any marijuana reclassification decisions, regardless of what HHS recommends.

“The DEA has final authority to classify, reclassify, or downgrade a drug under the Controlled Substances Act, after considering relevant statutory and regulatory criteria and HHS’s scientific and medical evaluation,” the letter states. “The DEA is currently conducting its review.”

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