Thirty U.S. states have enacted medical cannabis laws, and all but one of them include cancer in the list of conditions allowed. Such laws give cancer patients across the country access to a substance that remains illegal under federal law.
Anecdotal reports suggest marijuana is helpful in managing symptoms of chemotherapy, like pain and nausea. But it’s unlikely curious patients are getting clear guidance from their doctors on whether they should try marijuana, which form might work best and how much to take. A new survey of 237 oncologists from around the country finds that while roughly 80 percent talk with their patients about marijuana, fewer than 30 percent feel they have sufficient knowledge to advise them about its medicinal use.
Despite their shaky knowledge of the drug, nearly half of all oncologists do recommend medical cannabis to their patients, according to the study, which was published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. But more than half of those suggesting it, don’t consider themselves knowledgeable to do so, says Dr. Ilana Braun, a cancer psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass. and the study’s lead author.
“Unfortunately, at this time, the evidence base to support medical marijuana’s efficacy in oncology is young,” Braun says. “So, often oncologists are borrowing from clinical trials for other diseases, or extrapolating from evidence on pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids.”