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Doctors Want More Information on Medical Cannabis, Study Finds

May 11, 2018
(SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock)
SEATTLE (AP) — Nearly half of U.S. cancer doctors who responded to a survey say they’ve recently recommended medical marijuana to patients, although most say they don’t know enough about medicinal use.

The results reflect how marijuana policy in some states has outpaced research, the study authors said. All 29 states with medical marijuana programs allow doctors to recommend it to cancer patients. But no rigorous studies in cancer patients exist. That leaves doctors to make assumptions from other research on similar prescription drugs, or in other types of patients.

“The big takeaway is we need more research, plain and simple,” said Dr. Ilana Braun of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led the study published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Study Finds Most Cancer Patients Want MMJ Info, But Few Get It

Patients want to know what their doctors think about using marijuana. In the new study, cancer doctors said their conversations about marijuana were almost always started by patients and their families, not by the doctors themselves.

“They’re not as close-minded as you might think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn.”
Dr. Ilana Braun , Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Overall, nearly eight in 10 cancer doctors reported having discussed marijuana with patients or their families, with 46 percent recommending it for pain and other cancer-related problems to at least one patient in the past year.

Among those who said they recommended marijuana, 56 percent said they did not have sufficient knowledge to do so.

“They’re not as close-minded as you might think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn,” Braun said.

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Cannabis and Cancer

The survey was conducted in a random sample of cancer doctors; researchers got completed surveys from 237 doctors, or 63 percent.

Marijuana is considered an illegal drug by federal officials and federal restrictions have limited research. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded the lack of scientific information about marijuana poses a risk to public health.

There’s evidence marijuana can treat chronic pain in adults and medications similar to marijuana can ease nausea from chemotherapy.

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The Biology of Cannabis vs. Opioids for Pain Relief

In the study, 67 percent of cancer doctors said they view marijuana as a useful addition to standard pain therapies, with 75 percent saying it posed less risk of overdose than opioids. About half view marijuana as equal to, or more effective than, standard treatments for cancer-related nausea.

Marijuana isn’t harmless. The National Academies report said pot smoking may be linked to higher chances of traffic accidents, chronic bronchitis from long-term use and schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, especially in the most frequent users.

Dr. Steven Pergam of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance answers questions about marijuana’s safety from his colleagues at the treatment center.

His responses depend on the patient. A dying patient with cancer that’s spread? “Whatever they want to do to make themselves comfortable,” said Pergam, who wasn’t involved in the new research. A patient with leukemia, however, should be warned of a theoretical possibility of a fungal infection tied to cannabis use.

“If we’re not comfortable having these discussions, patients will get information from other sources, and it’s not going to be as reliable,” he said.

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  • Onetaxpayer

    Drug companies and the health industry do not want medical marijuana because they do not get a cut of the profits. With recreational marijuana it will be even worse because doctors will be eliminated out of the equation. The health industry would rather sell opioids with very little control to maximize profits. If we try to hold the drug industry on opioids they will blame it some else or those users who have the medical condition of being easily addicted.

    • James Peters

      GW Pharma has been working on cannabinoids for around 20 years now, with multiple patents and very little to show for it. If they were that promising relative to the many other sources of drugs, other pharmaceutical companies would be investing. They are not limited by scheduling in the US as their market is worldwide and they could use the same approach as for Dronabinol 30 years ago.

  • Jeff Wippel

    You can only take intense pain for so long before you’ll do anything to escape it. Cannabis makes life so much easier. It allows you to be comfortable. For more information, health prescription and medical purchases, visit ANNCANNMED. They have extremely potent products at good prices too. Recommend this dispensary to anyone looking at Cannabis for help