Patients with cancer use cannabis to manage their symptoms related to their diagnosis and clinical treatments. With medicinal cannabis research in its infancy, many health care providers are unsure how to provide accurate counseling and appropriate treatment to their patients.1

Current Oncology published a study in its May 2020 issue indicating the lack of knowledge about cannabis recommendations along with notable barriers among health care professionals regarding direct patient care. These investigators identified monitoring patients’ cannabis use, prescribing an accurate dose or strain, and insufficient research as significant barriers.

In this study, an anonymous 45-question survey measured health care professionals’ opinions regarding cannabis use in oncology. Oncology nurses, radiation therapists, and pharmacists were among the participants.

The survey results indicated that a collective lack of knowledge in cannabis drug therapy made them unable to recommend this substance. More than half of respondents said they would need more information or training to feel confident about cannabis.

Despite the collective lack of knowledge, researchers reported that many participants counseled patients about cannabis use in the month preceding this study. To eliminate knowledge gaps, teaching future health care professionals about cannabis education early in their curricula can improve clinical preparedness. 

The lack of clinically-based research regarding cannabis use increases concern about potential drug interactions with patients’ other cancer medications and adverse drug reactions (ADRs) to cannabis. This is especially a concern within older patients and those with cognitive impairment or mental illness, as they are more likely to experience cannabis-associated ADRs.

Given these study findings, health care providers need more clinical cannabis research, education, and training to correct knowledge gaps and barriers to effective treatment for cancer patients.
Ariana Hawkins is a 2021 PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

  1. McLennan A, Kerba M, Subnis U, Campbell T, Carlson LE. Health care provider preferences for, and barriers to, cannabis use in cancer care. Curr Oncol. 2020;27(2):e199-e205. doi:10.3747/co.27.561