Between 2005 and 2014, cancer patients increased their use of marijuana/ cannabis 114 percent, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. They tracked marijuana and opioid use by about 19,600 self-reporting adults with and without cancer during this time period. Respondents without cancer reported a much lower (12.5 percent) increase in cannabis use. For both groups, the odds of opioid use “did not significantly change” over time. The study states the rising levels of cannabis use overall “likely [reflect] increased availability and legislative changes.”
The study also found between 2018 and 2019, 40 percent of cancer patients and 38 percent of respondents without cancer used marijuana or cannabis-based products.
“I was really surprised at how high marijuana use was even in the respondents who don't have cancer,” Dr. Jona Hattangasi-Gluth, lead investigator and associate professor of Radiation Medicine and Applied Sciences, said.
Hattangasi-Gluth and his team see cannabis as a possible alternative to opiods in an era when the U.S. is very much in a painkiller addiction/ substance use disorder crisis. In 2017, close to 50,000 people died from opioid overdoses, and about 20,000 people died from overdoses of other drugs.
“Medical marijuana legalization has previously been associated with a reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse, suggesting that if patients are in fact substituting marijuana for opioids, this may introduce an opportunity for reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality,” Hattangasi-Gluth said. He feels marijuana research should be approached with “the same quality of clinical trials and prospective trials that we use for any other drug.”
As reported by Weedmaps, the American Cancer Society (ACS) is reviewing its policies regarding the medical use of cannabis by people with cancer. Dr. Ted Gansler, ACS Strategic Director for Pathology Research, said this study’s findings support “the long term need for more clinical research as well as a short term need for expert advice regarding the possible benefits and side effects for people facing cancer.”
Research from 2018 found that in 2016, 320 out of 400 oncologists surveyed had discussed medical cannabis with their patients, and 46 percent had recommended it to some. But, 75 percent of them didn't feel adequately equipped to make appropriate recommendations.