25% of Cancer Patients Use Marijuana Where It’s Legal, Study Finds

A new study has found that about one-quarter of cancer patients use marijuana for medical purposes when it’s available to access legally.

One-quarter of cancer patients use marijuana when it’s legal, according to the findings of a new study published in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal, CANCER.

Steven Pergam, MD, MPH, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and his colleagues surveyed 926 patients at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance, inquiring about their patterns of medical marijuana use to alleviate symptoms related to cancer treatments.

Pergam and the researchers found that at least 25 percent of all cancer patients in Washington state are using medical marijuana. Sixty-six percent of patients said they had used marijuana at some time in the past, 24 percent used it in the past year, and 21 percent had used it in the past month.

“These levels are more than double those reported in national prevalence studies, where rates vary between 1.8% and 8.3% over 1 month and between 2.8% and 12.9% over 1 year,” the study concludes.

Most of those patients who said to be used cannabis currently said they did so to primarily reduce physical symptoms like pain and nausea, or for psychological purposes like coping with stress, insomnia, and depression. Studies have found that cannabis and its cannabinoids are potentially beneficial for managing symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments.

A majority of the cancer patients said they either consumed cannabis through inhalation methods (70 percent), edibles (70 percent), or used both types of modalities (40 percent).

The study also found that 74 percent of the patients had a “strong interest” in obtaining information about medical marijuana from cancer care providers. Most reported, however, that they were more likely to get information from sources other than their healthcare professional. A large majority of physicians aren’t being properly trained on medical marijuana, forcing most patients to educate themselves.

“Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information from their cancer doctors about marijuana use during their treatment, so many of them are seeking information from alternative non-scientific sources,” said Dr. Pergam, in a statement.

“We hope that this study helps to open up the door for more studies aimed at evaluating the risks and benefits of marijuana in this population,” he added. This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere.”

The study also revealed that legalization increased the likelihood for use among more than half of the patients surveyed.

In addition to Washington, medical marijuana is legal in 28 states across the nation and Washington D.C. Eight states, including Washington, have also legalized recreational marijuana.

The entire study, “Cannabis use among patients at a comprehensive cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational use,” is available to access through Wiley Online Library.

You can learn more about the research investigating cannabis’s benefits for patients diagnosed with cancer by visiting our category page focused on the latest medical marijuana research.