Marijuana use may improve quality of life (QoL) outcomes among patients with newly diagnosed head and neck cancer (HNC), according to a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.1

Previous studies have demonstrated that patients with HNC experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and psychosocial distress at diagnosis and throughout the course of the disease. Recreational use of marijuana has been shown to  produce feelings of relaxation, improve anxiety, and decrease pain, but its effect among patients with HNC is unknown.

For this prospective cohort study in Canada, researchers enrolled 148 patients with HNC; 74 patients who were current marijuana users were matched with 74 nonusers based on age, sex, and tumor subsite. Marijuana use was defined as the use of loose-leaf marijuana at least once weekly. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) and the EuroQoL-5D (EQ5D) were used to assess QoL. The median patient age was 62.2 years, and no significant differences in age, sex, tumor subsite, clinical TNM staging, treatment modality, or mean Karnofsky score between the study groups were observed.

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Analysis of the EQ5D data revealed that there were no significant difference between the user and nonuser groups as it related to mobility, self-care, and usual activities, but patients using marijuana recreationally had significantly lower scores for anxiety/depression and pain/discomfort.

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QoL for marijuana users with HNC improved across all domains of the ESAS, including statistically significant improvements in pain (mean [SD], 1.85 [2.49] vs 2.72 [2.59]; difference, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.04-1.69), anxiety (0.77 [1.31] vs 5.30 [2.06]; difference, 4.53; 95% CI, 3.97-5.09), and depression (0.72 [1.68] vs 3.19 [3.05]; difference, 2.47; 95% CI, 1.67-3.27) and a statistically higher score for general well-being (4.05 [2.29] vs 2.12 [2.65]; difference, 1.93; 95% CI, 1.13-2.74).

The Wilcoxon rank sum test was used to confirm outcomes from both questionnaires.

The authors concluded that “additional study of whether these effects are maintained throughout treatment and among long-term survivors is warranted and could provide interesting insight.”


  1. Zhang H, Xie M, Archibald SD, Jackson S, Gupta MK. Association of marijuana use with psychosocial and quality of life outcomes among patients with head and neck cancer [published online August 2, 2018]. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.0486