Survey: Nearly One-Third of Cancer Patients Acknowledge Using Cannabis Post-Diagnosis, Most Don’t Tell Their Doctors

New York, NY: Patients diagnosed with cancer frequently turn to cannabis for symptom management, according to survey data published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.

Researchers affiliated with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City surveyed 1,258 cancer patients. Thirty-one percent of respondents said that they used cannabis products following their diagnosis. (All respondents resided in states where the medical use of cannabis for cancer is legal.)

Respondents were most likely to report consuming cannabis products to improve sleep, reduce pain, and relieve stress and depression. Those who used cannabis for palliative care “overwhelmingly reported improvements in their symptoms.” Only one in four consumers discussed their cannabis use with their healthcare providers – a result that is consistent with other studies finding that most patients are reluctant to speak with their doctors about cannabis-specific health issues.

Authors concluded: “Our study found that cannabis use among cancer patients is common across sociodemographic and clinical populations, with cannabis often obtained without oncologist involvement. Oncologists and other members of the oncology team are uniquely positioned to provide education about the harms and benefits of cannabis use specifically for cancer patients, which is especially important in the context of inconclusive and often conflicting evidence. Interventions to improve cannabis education and communication need not target oncologists who treat specific cancers, as cannabis use appears consistent across multiple patient characteristics.”

According to survey data compiled earlier this year by researchers at the University of Michigan, a majority of physicians say that they lack the skills to adequately counsel patients on the use of medical cannabis.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis use among recently treated cancer patients: Perceptions and experiences,” appears in Supportive Care in Cancer.