Study Finds Cancer Patients Use Less Marijuana Than General Public

For the study, approximately 20,000 people were followed over a span of 4 years, which showed that reports of marijuana use peaked at 9% for patients with cancer versus 14% among those with no cancer history.

A recent study found that even with recent laws that legalized recreational use of marijuana and the drug’s growing acceptance among the general public, use is still low among patients with cancer, according to a press release from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

For the study, approximately 20,000 people were followed over a span of 4 years, which showed that reports of marijuana use peaked at 9% for patients with cancer versus 14% among those with no cancer history.

“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,” said study lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, PhD, associate director for population science and interim co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey Cancer Center, in a press release. “I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population.”

The data were collected between 2013 and 2018 from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, which includes a representative sample of Americans to survey smoking behaviors, including tobacco and marijuana.

Rates of marijuana use rose during the study period for people who never had cancer, whereas the country saw an increase in recreational marijuana legalization during the same time period.

“Because of law enforcement changing, we expect to see changes in attitudes and perceived benefits and harms,” said study co-author Sunny Jung Kim, PhD, an assistant professor of health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine, in a press release. “This work gives us perspective on prevalence of cannabis use among cancer patients.”

Additionally, the odds of a patient with cancer using marijuana were essentially flat between 2013 and 2018, according to the study.

“There is that element of a life-changing moment when you have cancer,” Fuemmeler said in a press release. “You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful.”

The latest analysis revealed that people who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use marijuana compared to the lower rates of marijuana use seen among women, older people, and those with higher incomes, medical insurance, or better mental health. Further, the authors noted that there is a need for greater research into the health effects of marijuana use for patients with cancer and survivors of the disease for more educational conversations to occur between physicians and patients.

“As with all health decisions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before making any big changes,” said study co-author Egidio Del Fabbro, MD, the Palliative Care Endowed Chair and director of palliative care at Massey Cancer Center and a professor of internal medicine at VCU, in a press release. “Now that marijuana is becoming legal in more parts of the country, we’re expecting more questions, and although we may not have all the answers, we’re here to listen and provide our patients with the best available evidence.”

REFERENCE

Cancer patients use less marijuana than the general public. VCU News. August 13, 2021. Accessed August 16, 2021. https://www.news.vcu.edu/article/2021/08/cancer-patients-use-less-marijuana-than-the-general-public