SEATTLE (AP) – Almost half of US cancer physicians responding to a survey said they recently recommended medical marijuana to patients, although most say they do not know enough about medical applications.
The results show how marijuana policy in some states has overtaken research, the study authors said. All 29 states with medical marijuana programs allow doctors to recommend them to cancer patients. But there are no strict studies in cancer patients. This allows doctors to make other assumptions about similar prescription drugs or other types of patients' assumptions.
"The big take away is we need more research, plain and simple," Dr. Ilana Braun of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led the study published on Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology
Patients want to know what their doctors think about marijuana. In the new study, cancer doctors said their discussions of marijuana were almost always started by patients and their families, not by the doctors themselves.
In total, nearly eight out of ten cancer physicians reported having discussed marijuana with patients or their families, 46 percent recommended it to at least one patient for pain and other cancer-related problems last year
Among respondents who have recommended marijuana, 56 percent said that they did not have sufficient knowledge.
"They are not as narrow-minded as you may think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn," said Braun.
The survey was conducted in a sample of cancer physicians; Researchers have completed the surveys of 237 physicians or 63 percent.
Marijuana is considered by federal officials as an illicit drug and federal restrictions have limited research. Last year, the National Academies of Science, Technology and Medicine noted the lack of scientific information about marijuana, which poses a risk to public health.
There is evidence that marijuana can treat adult chronic pain and marijuana-like medications can relieve nausea through chemotherapy.
In the study, 67 percent of cancer physicians said they regard marijuana as a useful adjunct to standard pain management, with 75 percent saying that it poses a lower risk of overdose than opioids. About half of respondents consider marijuana to be equivalent or more effective than standard treatments for cancer-related nausea.
Marijuana is not harmless. The National Academies report that smoking pokes can be associated with greater chances for traffic accidents, long-term chronic bronchitis and schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, especially among the most frequent users.
Dr. Steven Pergam of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance answers questions about the safety of marijuana from his colleagues at the treatment center
His answers depend on the patient. A dying patient with cancer spreading? "Whatever they want to do to make themselves comfortable," said Pergam, who was not involved in the new research. However, a patient with leukemia should be warned of a theoretical possibility of fungal infection associated with cannabis use.
"If we do not feel well, patients will get information from other sources, and that will not be so reliable," he said.