Cancer Doctors Are Still Hazy on Medical Marijuana

According to a survey conducted by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, many U.S. cancer doctors have recommended medical marijuana to their patients to manage pain and other cancer-related problems; many also said they did not have sufficient knowledge to do so. The survey was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Medical marijuana has gained popularity in the U.S.; 29 states now have established medical marijuana programs that permit physicians to discuss and recommend the drug to cancer patients. However, results of the study suggest that policy in some states has moved faster than research, according to lead author Ilana Braun, MD. “The big takeaway is we need more research, plain and simple,” she told AP News.

Eighty percent of the 237 respondents reported having discussed marijuana with patients or their families, and 46 percent eventually recommended it to at least one patient in the past year. However, among those who recommended its use, more than half (56%) said they did not have enough knowledge to do so.

Patients also are eager for information about using marijuana, with most doctors reporting that patients or their families typically started these conversations.

“[Doctors] are not as close-minded as you might think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn,” Dr. Braun added.

“Many physicians are skeptical about [marijuana’s] benefits, and it’s true that there are few data on its risks and benefits, but if we don’t talk to our patients about it, they will talk with other people [who] may not be the best sources of information,” Steven Pergam, MD, MPH, from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Washington (a state where medicinal and recreational marijuana use is legal) told ASH Clinical News in a December 2017 article about medical marijuana for patients with hematologic malignancies.

Sources: AP News, May 10, 2018; Braun IM, Wright A, Peteet J, et al. Medical oncologists’ beliefs, practices, and knowledge regarding marijuana used therapeutically: a nationally representative survey study. J Clin Oncol. 2018 May 10. [Epub ahead of print]