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When Cancer Patients Ask About Weed, Many Doctors Say Go For It

Thirty states in the U.S. have enacted medical cannabis laws, and all but one include cancer in the list of conditions allowed. These laws ultimately give cancer patients across the country access to a substance that remains illegal under federal law. Reports suggest marijuana is helpful in managing symptoms of chemotherapy, like pain and nausea. But it’s unlikely curious patients are getting clear guidance from their doctors on whether they should try marijuana, which form might work best and how much to take.

A new survey of 237 oncologists from around the country finds that while roughly 80 percent talk with their patients about marijuana, fewer than 30 percent feel they have sufficient knowledge to advise them about its medicinal use. The survey only asked about medical marijuana, defined as non-pharmaceutical cannabis products that providers recommend for therapeutic use. It did not include pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids, such as a synthetic analog of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is FDA-approved for the treatment and prevention of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Oncologists’ ignorance about medical marijuana leaves many cancer patients to go it alone in figuring out which cannabis products — and what dosages — might work best to help them manage the debilitating symptoms that often come with chemotherapy. The survey found that oncologists in states with medical marijuana laws were more likely to feel knowledgeable about medical marijuana compared to their peers in states where it remains outlawed. But in either case, they were just as likely to recommend medical marijuana to their patients. Providers in western states were more likely to discuss and recommend medical marijuana compared to those in the south. Working in an out-patient setting and having a higher practice volume were also variables that made a provider more likely to recommend medical marijuana.

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