Half of Oncologists Recommend Pot to Patients

oncologist examing results with patient

BOSTON – A new survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that at least half of oncologists recommend marijuana to their cancer patients, according to National Public Radio.

Dr. Ilana Braun from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston conducted the study which surveyed 237 oncologists countrywide. The study also found that 80 percent of oncologists have discussed marijuana with patients but only 30 percent said that they felt knowledgeable enough to do so.

The surveys were mailed to oncologists in 2016, randomly, in an effort to determine how much oncologists discussed marijuana treatments, how many recommended it as a treatment, how many felt qualified to advise marijuana to patients, and how effective they thought marijuana was to cancer patients using marijuana.

Sixty-Seven Percent of Oncologists Say Marijuana is Beneficial

Sixty-seven percent said that they felt marijuana was a beneficial treatment for pain in addition to other treatments, and 75 percent said that marijuana could be useful combating opioid addiction by decreasing overdoses. At least 65 percent of oncologists also thought marijuana was more effective for anorexia and cachexia than traditional prescription medications.

Dr. Braun said there was no other instance she knew of where a physician would recommend a drug while admitting that they weren't knowledgeable about it, a testament to both the need for more medical research as well as an indication to what patients are telling their doctors about marijuana's efficiency.

Since marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law, researchers are not eligible for federal funding to conduct the much-needed medical marijuana research.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states plus Washington D.C. Cancer is listed as a qualifying condition in most states, yet 70 percent of oncologists surveyed felt unqualified to speak on medical marijuana as a treatment option.

Dr. Braun said that there is research that shows oral medications with THC can decrease symptoms from chemotherapy and nausea but no direct evidence to determine how, or even if marijuana can treat a patient's lack of appetite.

The study found the discrepancy between oncologists' knowledge on medical marijuana and their recommendations troubling and concluded that more medical research on marijuana is necessary.

Dr. Andrew Epstein is an oncologist in New York City and says that while doctors don't have the full picture of how marijuana works, it has benefits that help cancer patients and nothing in the plant is going to outweigh the damage cancer and chemo do to a person, adding that he while he agrees more research is necessary, he is not concerned that oncologists are recommending weed to cancer patients.