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Many Oncologists Recommend Marijuana To Their Patients, Even Though They Don't Know Much About It: Survey

May 11, 2018 07:37 PM EDT
Medical Marijuana
Many oncologists feel ill-equipped to recommend medical marijuana, but many discuss and prescribe it to patients nevertheless, a recent survey reveals.
(Photo : Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images)

Marijuana for cancer? An overwhelming majority of oncologists don't actually know how medical marijuana can help, but a sizeable chunk clinically recommend it anyway.

A recent study demonstrates this gap between oncologists knowledge of medical marijuana and their practice in providing prescriptions to their patients.

Lack Of Knowledge Not Keeping Oncologists From Prescribing Marijuana

The survey, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reveals that 80 percent of oncologists discuss marijuana with their patients, but only about 30 percent feel they're knowledgeable enough to make clinical recommendations about it.

More significantly, nearly half of the respondents prescribe medical marijuana to their patients despite many feeling not knowledgeable about the drug to do so.

"Unfortunately, at this time, the evidence base to support medical marijuana's efficacy in oncology is young," Dr. Ilana Braun explains. "So, often oncologists are borrowing from clinical trials for other diseases, or extrapolating from evidence on pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids."

Braun is the study's lead author and a cancer psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

One of the reasons that may be pushing doctors to recommend cannibis is the belief that it's less harmful than other options.

The study also shows that 75 percent of oncologists believe that marijuana is less likely to lead to overdose compared to opioids. Half of the surveyed doctors think it's also less likely to result in addiction.

Doctors Aren't Taught Medical Marijuana

Stephen Corn, an anesthesiologist, tells that it's not surprising that many doctors feel inadequately informed about marijuana.

"A relatively small percentage of doctors are being educated on medical cannabis," he explains, saying it's not a subject that is being tackled in medical school.

According to Corn, there have been studies that point to medical marijuana's indirect benefits to cancer patients, such as alleviating chemotherapy side-effects such as nausea and vomiting. It's also been shown to help cancer patients in dealing with their difficulty sleeping, anxiety, poor appetite, or even pain.

With plenty of anecdotal evidence, more and more patients are seeking out medical marijuana and approaching their doctors about the subject. However, it's important that oncologists also improve upon their knowledge.

"Ensuring that physicians have a sufficient knowledge on which to base their medical recommendations is essential to providing high quality care," Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D. of the University of Colorado School of Medicine says. "Our study suggests that there is clearly room for improvement when it comes to medical marijuana."

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