- Many oncologists feel inadequately informed to reliably advise their patients on the use of medical marijuana, yet a significant number of them still recommend its use, as revealed in a national survey.
- While medical marijuana is legal in 30 states, with many indicating cancer as one of the qualifying conditions, federal laws classify it as illegal, which limits research opportunities into its effectiveness as a medical treatment.
- A recent survey found that only 30% of oncologists felt sufficiently informed to recommend medicinal marijuana, yet roughly 46% still recommended its use. Among these recommending doctors, 56% confessed they did not feel knowledgeable enough to have made such a recommendation.
- There is a pressing need for more research regarding the medical effectiveness and possible harmful effects of marijuana. Existing comprehensive reviews found inconclusive evidence with regard to its role in cancer treatment.
- 67% of oncologists believed that medical marijuana could be a useful addition to standard pain management, while 65% believed it could help patients deal with appetite loss despite the inconclusive evidence on its effectiveness in these treatments.
Extensive research in the field of medical marijuana is being requested by several oncologists, who claim that they are not sufficiently informed to reliably advise their patients on its use.
Despite their limited knowledge, numerous doctors are suggesting its use, as revealed in a national survey.
The Knowledge Gap
In a survey of oncologists across the United States, seven out of ten confessed that they are inadequately informed about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana to recommend its use to patients. Regardless, in the past year, eight out of ten cancer doctors admitted having discussed the use of medical marijuana with their patients with nearly half endorsing its use in cancer treatment, according to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Dr. Ilana Braun, a leading official in the Division of Adult Psychosocial Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, referred to this as a “disconcerting discrepancy”. She further stated, “We rarely come across instances where physicians provide clinical advice on a topic they do not feel adequately knowledgeable about.”
Legislation and Limitations
Today, medical marijuana is legal in 30 states, with almost all indicating cancer as one of the qualifying conditions. However, federal laws still classify marijuana as illegal, limiting research opportunities into its effectiveness as a medical treatment. Dr. Braun shared, “The scientific evidence base supporting the use of medical marijuana in oncology is still slim.”
The Study’s Findings
To understand how oncologists are dealing with this issue, Dr. Braun and her team surveyed a random sample of 400 oncologists. The survey’s findings revealed that only 30% of them felt sufficiently informed to make recommendations regarding medicinal marijuana. Yet, roughly 46% still recommended its use. Of these recommending doctors, 56% confessed they did not feel knowledgeable enough to have made such a recommendation.
The Need for More Research
Braun attests that there is a pressing need for more research regarding the medical effectiveness and possible harmful effects of marijuana. She pointed out, for instance, that patients whose immune systems have been ravaged by chemotherapy might be at an increased risk of fungal infection due to pot use.
The most comprehensive review of medical marijuana’s effectiveness to date, published in 2017 by the National Academy of Sciences, found inconclusive evidence with regard to its role in cancer treatment. It noted that oral medications containing THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana, can reduce the effects of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. However, there’s inconclusive evidence on its ability to treat the lack of appetite and wastage caused by cancer.
Medical Marijuana’s Potential Roles
Dr. Braun’s survey found that 67% of oncologists believed that medical marijuana could be a useful addition to standard pain management, while 65% believed it could help patients deal with appetite loss.
According to oncologist Dr. Andrew Epstein from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, although doctors might not fully understand the issue, it should not cause significant worry. He argued that the negative impact of cancer and its treatment like pain, appetite loss, nausea, and depression are potentially more debilitating than any potential interactions marijuana would have with cancer treatments.
Given the complexity of the issue, both Dr. Epstein and Dr. Braun agree that more research and better medical education on medicinal marijuana is vital so that doctors can offer the most informed advice possible to their patients.
For further information, please visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse’s webpage on medical marijuana.