But patients in Washington state say doctors provide little information about the drug

September 25, 2017

MONDAY, Sept. 25, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- If you legalize medical marijuana, a sizable number of cancer patients will sign up, a new Washington state survey suggests.

One-quarter of cancer patients in Washington use marijuana, researchers found. But the study also revealed it can be a challenge to get information about the drug from health care providers.

"Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information from their cancer doctors about marijuana use during their treatment, so many of them are seeking information from alternate nonscientific sources," said study author Dr. Steven Pergam of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Marijuana is reported to ease symptoms related to cancer treatment, and U.S. cancer patients will have greater access to medical pot as acceptance and availability of marijuana increases nationwide, Pergam's team said.

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in more than half of states. Both uses are legal in Washington state.

This study included more than 900 patients at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance. Two-thirds said they had used marijuana in the past, about one-quarter had used it in the last year and 21 percent had used it in the last month. Past-week use was reported by 18 percent.

Most current users said they smoked or consumed marijuana to ease physical symptoms such as pain and nausea, or to cope with stress, depression and insomnia.

Most patients expressed strong interest in learning about marijuana during treatment, and 74 percent wanted information from cancer care providers, according to the study.

But most of the patients said they had to get information from sources outside of the health care system.

The study results were published online in the journal Cancer.

Marijuana may be dangerous for some cancer patients or cause unwanted side effects, Pergam noted.

"We hope that this study helps to open up the door for more studies aimed at evaluating the risks and benefits of marijuana in this population," Pergam said in a journal news release.

"This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on marijuana.

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