Cancer patients hesitant to adopt medical cannabis despite legalisation

13th August 2021

A new study has revealed that cancer patients in the US are embracing medical cannabis at a significantly lower rate than the general public.

Cannabis reforms have been taking the US by storm over the last decade, with over a third of Americans now living in a state that allows recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis has also been legalised in 33 states and Washington D.C.

Despite these changes, alongside increasing evidence of how cannabis and its derivatives can be useful in treating symptoms associated with cancer and chemotherapy, cancer patients are reportedly still abstaining from cannabis use.

The study, published today (August 13th) in the journalĀ Cancer by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Centre, analysed data collected from over 20,000 people between 2013 and 2018.

It was revealed that cannabis use peaked at 14% for people with no cancer history reported cannabis use, this number fell to just 9% for cancer patients.

Cancer patients hesitant to adopt medical cannabis despite legalisation
Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Centre

Study lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for population science and interim co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center, said of the results: “Even when we looked at whether someone used cannabis over the four years of observation and we control for things like age and race, cancer patients are still not increasing their use over time like the general population.

“I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population.”

The data also revealed that, regardless of cancer history, people who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use cannabis. In comparison, lower rates of cannabis use were consistently seen among women, older people, and those with higher incomes, medical insurance, or better mental health.

The researchers speculate the life-changing effects of receiving a cancer diagnosis may be related to the lower rate of cannabis use among cancer patients: “You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful,” said Fuemmeler.

The study concludes by stressing the need for increased research into the health implications associated with cannabis use in cancer patients to give both doctors and patients the opportunity to have more informed conversations around the potential risks and benefits.

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