The relationship between cannabis and cancer has long been at the forefront of research regarding its medical efficacy, mainly for legalization and treatment purposes. However, cannabis use amongst those with cancer is poorly understood, at least according to a team of researchers. In light of such, and the fact that cancer is a common qualifying condition for cannabis, this research team took to expanding the available basic information on cannabis in the cancer population in order to provide clinical trial designers with better information needed for planned studies. So, they explored the differences between cancer patients and medical patients who use cannabis.
The study was conducted by Matthew Cousins, Mary Jannausch, Reshma Jagsi, and Mark IIgen and was published on March 16, 2021. The researchers also hypothesized that,
“Patients using cannabis for cancer-associated symptoms are different from patients using cannabis for non-cancer medical purposes in terms of their demographics, functional status, symptom severity, and cannabis use patterns”.
This hypothesis was studied by making use of a survey-based approach at multiple sites in order to assess medical-only cannabis use in locals where patients had access to a variety of cannabis and cannabis products. A paper survey instrument was given in order to assess age, gender, race, educational attainment, relationship status, employment/disability, pain score via a numeric rating scale, physical functioning, mental health, frequency of cannabis use in the last 6 months, methods of cannabis consumption, average quantity consumed in a week, number of hours feeling high per day for a month as well as whether the consumption has been discussed with the primary care provider of the participant.
The study included 1,485 adults who were seeking medical cannabis certification, of which only 72 had a cancer diagnosis while 1,413 did not. The study found that the mean age of those with a cancer diagnosis was 53.4 years old, while those who did not have that diagnosis had a mean age of 44.7 years old. The study also found that there were no differences between those with cancer and those without in terms of gender, race, relationship status, and education. Additionally, they found that cancer patients were “less than half as likely to be working full or part-time” and that “they were more likely to be disabled”.
When comparing the symptoms and functions of cancer patients vs non-cancer patients in the study, they found that the cancer patients had less severe pain in comparison to the counterpart group. They also found that there was no difference in terms of physical components between the two groups but found that cancer patients were more likely to be moderate to severely disabled in the mental components.
When looking at the cannabis use characteristics, the cannabis patients were “twice as likely to endorse using cannabis ‘none or rarely’ in the last 6 months” and that “fewer cancer patients noted at least weekly cannabis use or use several times/day”. The team of researchers also found that the cancer patients were consuming smaller quantities of cannabis but that there were no significant differences in the time spent feeling high between cancer patients and those without cancer.
The team of researchers also looked at the modes of administration of cannabis and found that the cancer patients were less likely to consume the substances through smoking, or inhalation. Additionally, the study found that both groups were more likely to endorse cannabis consumption through the mode of oral administration when compared to other modes of administration.
Although the researchers are not aware of the “portion of these (cancer-patient) individuals” which “were applying for certification renewal vs first time certification”, they found that the cancer-patients were less likely to have active medical cannabis certifications in comparison to non-cannabis consumers and despite the fact that cancer is a common qualifying condition for medical cannabis across the globe. They also found that cancer patients with an active certification were “less likely to endorse cannabis use” than those who did not have cancer. Additionally, the team found that 53% of the cancer patients had discussed cannabis consumption with their primary caregivers and that 44.6% of the non-cancer participants had similar discussions.
The study explained that the differences between “patients with cancer and those who do not have cancer who are seeking cannabis are not well understood” and that “more information on the differences between these two groups is needed to support ongoing research efforts and policy decisions”. However, there is a difference as the study concluded by stating that their “analyses demonstrate that individuals with cancer are somewhat different from the general population of individuals using medical cannabis in terms of demographics, symptoms and functioning, cannabis use patterns and certification status”.
Additionally, the team of researchers concluded by stating that their work “highlights the need to better understand the ways in which cannabis use in cancer patients under real-world conditions” but this can be said for a wide variety of cannabis research fields. They also explain that better insight into cannabis use with cancer patients is important for researchers, clinicians, and policy-makers so that they may better understand the relationship between symptoms and functioning over time. Now that the industry is aware of the differences between cancer- and non-cancer-patients, one can only hope and wait for further research to be conducted in order to provide insight into these differences.
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