Survey: Most Oncologists Discuss Medical Marijuana with Cancer Patients
June 1, 2018
Medical marijuana continues to be a hot topic among mesothelioma patients and a popular way to cope with disease symptoms and treatment side effects.
As more states legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, more cancer patients are asking their doctors about the natural therapy. A recent survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows as many as 80 percent of oncologists talk about medical marijuana with their patients.
Of the 237 oncologists who responded to the survey, more than half (55 percent) practice in one of the 28 states where medical marijuana is legal.
Questions on the survey covered recommendations oncologists provided to patients, how much the doctors knew about medical marijuana, and their thoughts on using it for cancer-related symptoms.
The researchers behind the study concluded cancer patients often initiate conversations about medical marijuana, but knowledge gaps persist among oncologists.
“Our study shows that medical marijuana is a salient topic in cancer care today, and the majority of oncologists think it may have utility for certain patients,” Dr. Ilana Braun, study author and chief of the Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in an American Society of Clinical Oncology press release. “While this topic is common, however, data on medical marijuana use is less so. We need to bridge this gap so oncologists have the unbiased information they need to assist with decision-making related to medical marijuana use.”
Oncologists Want More Education About Medical Marijuana
Of the oncologists who reported discussing medical marijuana with patients, 78 percent said these conversations were initiated by the patient or the patient’s family.
Less than 30 percent of the survey participants said they felt knowledgeable enough about medical marijuana to make recommendations, yet nearly half (46 percent) advocate for it.
According to researchers, most of the oncologists surveyed expressed the need for more research and education in order to make better-informed decisions.
The majority of oncologists in the survey view medical marijuana as useful for easing cancer-related pain.
75 percent believe it brings a lower risk of overdose death compared to opioids
52 percent think it has a lower risk of addiction than opioids
65 percent view it as equally or more effective than standard treatments for poor appetite and extreme weight loss
Oncologists were less certain about medical marijuana’s effectiveness for other cancer-related conditions such as nausea and poor sleep.
Other key takeaways from the study:
Oncologists in the Western states were more likely to discuss or recommend medical marijuana, while physicians in the South were least likely
Participants practicing outside of a hospital setting are more likely to recommend it compared to hospital-based oncologists
Oncologists who see the most patients each week are more likely to have discussed medical marijuana with patients
“I think we need to carry out comparative effectiveness studies of medical marijuana to clarify its role,” Braun said. “We also need to extend our survey to other specialties, and to patients with cancer.”
Many Mesothelioma Patients Turn to Medical Marijuana
Rich DeLisle was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2012. An aggressive pleurectomy and decortication procedure kept his cancer at bay for several years.
DeLisle started taking cannabis oil in January. He usually takes a drop under the tongue every night before bed.
“It helps with pain management, nausea and dizziness,” he told Asbestos.com. “I get pain in my back and that helps. It helps me sleep well and normally prevents me from sweating at night.”
DeLisle has been an advocate for alternative and complementary treatments since his diagnosis. He credited Graviola tea and Essiac tea for his good health and active lifestyle for nearly five years.
After his cancer returned in full force, DeLisle turned to cannabis oil to control and ease symptoms.
“I would recommend it to anybody,” DeLisle said of medical marijuana.
DeLisle recently made the decision to enter hospice care at home, surrounded by friends and family.
Mesothelioma survivor Jim Huff has been taking CBD oil — a nonpsychoactive concentrate extracted from the marijuana plant — since he was diagnosed in 2016. It helps him sleep and control pain.
He started a clinical trial involving the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) earlier this year. His doctors said he could continue taking the CBD oil while enrolled in the trial.
“The thing is, there’s no fixed dosage for [the CBD oil] and there are no measurements on the syringe it comes in to tell you how much you’re doing,” Huff told Asbestos.com in March.
Because regulating one drop under the tongue is difficult — and because the oil tastes like “licking an ashtray” — Huff has been encapsulating the CBD oil himself and taking it with his daily dose of vitamins.
Access to Medical Marijuana Easier for Some
Huff, a California resident, had an easier time getting access to medical marijuana than DeLisle, who lives in Florida.
In 1996, California became the first state to pass medical marijuana legislation. The state passed recreational use in 2016.
Florida was among three states to legalize medical marijuana in 2016. However, the process to obtain a medical marijuana card in Florida is long and tedious, according to DeLisle.
“It took forever,” DeLisle said.
A family friend of Huff is commercially making his own CBD oil and wants Huff to switch to it. Huff said he is willing to give it a try to see if there is improvement but doesn’t want to stop something that is proven and working.
“It seems to be working,” Huff said of his CBD oil. “Until it doesn’t work, I’ll keep doing it.”