Cancer patients arguably stand to benefit the most from cannabis’ unique properties and benefits, such as anti-nausea, anti-inflammation, reduced pain, inhibited tumor growth, and appetite stimulation. Cannabis is an ideal substance to use during the various stages of cancer treatment but most especially after chemotherapy. However, a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) found that cancer patients actually consume much less cannabis than the general population.
Over the last few years, the world has seen a significant increase in the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis across different continents. Additionally, the increase in the availability of cannabis research has led to a decrease in stigmatization attached to cannabis. The reduced stigmatization and the rising legalization have led to significant increases in cannabis consumption; however, this cannot be said for the cancer patient groups.
The study, led by a group from the VCU Massey Cancer Center, found that cannabis consumption among cancer patients was perpetual and unchanging, even as the cannabis “use is still lower among cancer patients.” This means that while the general population is consuming more cannabis, those who stand to benefit the most are not.
The team of researchers analyzed data from nearly 20,000 people over a four-year period and found that cannabis use among cancer patients peaked at 9%. The lead author, Dr. Bernard Fuemmeler, explains that “even when we looked at whether someone used cannabis over the four years of observation, and we controlled for things like age and race, cancer patients are still not increasing their use over time like the general population.”
Dr. Fuemmeler had expected to see the cancer population mirror what was happening with the general population, and his co-author, Dr. Sunny Jung Kim, stated that “because of law enforcement changing, we expect to see changes in attitudes and perceived benefits and harms.” Even still, the “odds of a cancer patient using marijuana in the past year were essentially flat between 2013 and 2018.”
The researchers from VCU make use of data collected from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH), which tracked tobacco AND cannabis smoking behaviors. By using PATH data with their own efforts, they were able to get “perspective on prevalence of cannabis use among cancer patients and how it has changed over time.”
Dr. Fuemmeler stated that “there is that element of a life-changing moment when you have cancer” and that “you have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful.” While this research shows cancer patients consume less cannabis, there is plenty of published and available research that has proven the efficacy and benefit of cannabis for those with cancer.
While the study did not find cancer patients to mirror the increase in cannabis consumption by the general population, they did find that “people who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use marijuana,” which makes sense when you consider that cannabis does wonders in terms of alleviating all kinds of pain.
Unsurprisingly, the authors noted that there is a need for “greeting research into the health effects of marijuana use for cancer patients and survivors so that doctors and patients can have more informed conversations about whether the potential benefits might outweigh the risks.” However, there is already plenty of information available on the efficacy of cannabis for cancer patients: For example, scientists have developed a cannabis strain that is proven to kill cancer cells.
Existing research on cannabis and cancer reveals many common aspects. These include alleviating pain, reducing inflammation, stimulating appetite, alleviating nausea and pain, inhibiting cancerous cell growth, improving sleep, alleviating stress and anxiety, promoting homeostasis in the body, and uplifting the consumer.
Dr. Egidio Del Fabbro, co-author of the study, stated, “As with all health decisions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before making any big changes,” which is especially important if you already have a treatment plan and want to add cannabis to it. Dr. Fabbro also stated that “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.”
Perhaps the fact that cancer patients have not increased their cannabis consumption is due to the hesitation and lack of cannabis education among doctors. In other words, doctors are not considering or including cannabis in medical treatment plans as a result of hesitation or lack of education regarding the updated research and information that has been found about cannabis. Doctors will need to be re-educated on cannabis in order to shift the mindset of it being a recreational drug as opposed to a potential medical miracle.
That being said, there are many anecdotal reports proving the efficacy of cannabis for cancer patients. Add to that the fact that the quantity and quality of cannabis research is just increasing, those who have been diagnosed should consider including cannabis in their treatment plan. Remember that you are allowed to consult your medical physicians about cannabis, even if it is not legal in your state and we definitely recommend you do so as to avoid any adverse side effects or unwanted reactions with other medications.
If you are interested in the study of cannabis for cancer treatment, check out these articles:
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