Oncologists May Not Be Adequately Informed About Medical Marijuana

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There is a lack of robust data regarding medical marijuana for oncologists to base clinical decisions and discussions with patients.
There is a lack of robust data regarding medical marijuana for oncologists to base clinical decisions and discussions with patients.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, there is a sizeable gap between oncologists' beliefs, practices, and self-reported knowledge regarding medical marijuana.1

Previous studies have shown that medical marijuana — nonpharmaceutic cannabis recommended for therapeutic purposes — may have clinical utility in the treatment of cancer, improving pain, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and cachexia, but these findings have so far been based on lower-quality evidence. No randomized clinical studies have been performed for whole-plant medical marijuana among patients with cancer, leaving oncologists with a paucity of robust data on which to base clinical discussions and decisions.

For this study, researchers sent a survey on medical marijuana to a random sample of 400 oncologists. The survey consisted of 30 questions that attempted to shed light onto oncologists' views and practices with medical marijuana, including whether or not they discussed it's use with their patients, recommended it, and how informed they felt in making recommendations concerning medical marijuana. Oncologists were also surveyed on how they felt about medical marijuana's efficacy in comparison to standard practices, such as its use as an adjunct to pain management, and the associated risks versus prescription opioids.

Of the 400 oncologists in the sample, 376 responded to the survey (overall response rate of 63%).

Results showed that only 30% of oncologists felt adequately knowledgeable and informed to make recommendations, but 80% discussed medical marijuana with patients and 46% recommended medical marijuana for clinical use. Nearly two-thirds (67%) of oncologists reported viewing medical marijuana as an effective adjunct to standard pain management strategies, and 65% thought that medical marijuana was just as or more effective than therapies aimed to improve cachexia and anorexia.

The authors concluded that these findings “highlight a crucial need for expedited clinical trials exploring marijuana's potential medicinal effects in oncology (eg, as an adjunctive pain management strategy or as a treatment of anorexia /cachexia) and the need for educational programs about medical marijuana, to inform oncologists who frequently confront questions regarding medical marijuana in daily practice.”

Reference

  1. Braun IM, Wright A, Peteet J, et al. Medical oncologists' beliefs, practices, and knowledge regarding marijuana used therapeutically: a nationally representative survey study [published online May 10, 2018]. J Clin Oncol. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1221

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