Within the last year, almost a quarter of patients with cancer have turned to cannabis to alleviate pain. According to a survey of 926 patients in the state of Washington, where the drug can legally be used, 24 percent of those at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance had used marijuana within the last year, while those who had done so within the last thirty days amounted to 21 percent. Over the course of their lives, researchers found that 66 percent claimed to have either smoked or eaten the drug.

Symptom relief

Cancer patients use marijuana to combat the stress of the disease as well as to cope with the associated depression, insomnia, pain, and nausea.

Their rate of usage is almost double that of any other type of cannabis user in the general population, according to the study.

Side effects and usage

Symptoms can combine to form a maelstrom of issues, which the drug can help ease, however, there is continued difficulty getting legitimate information on cannabis as a treatment option from the medical establishment. Health effects may not be the same for each individual case and issues like dosage and frequency are too often left to patients to figure out through trial and error. According to Dr. Steven Pergam, who works at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, the use of cannabis has the potential to create unwelcome and occasionally dangerous side effects. Patients want more comprehensive information on the use of the drug in the course of their treatment but are not getting what they seek from their doctors.

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Alternate information sources

Many cancer patients are forced to turn to alternate sources that may be non-scientific due to the uncooperative health care system. Relying on these dubious sources can lead to misinformation on how the drug will impact their bodies and could create problems down the line. Almost 75 percent of those who participated in the study were able to state adamantly that they would like access to more information directly from their treatment teams on how marijuana could be properly incorporated in their treatment plans. An interest in learning more from medical professionals is prevalent and should be addressed. Otherwise, patients will not be properly educated about cannabis use and will have to resort to getting information from unsanctioned sources. This is clearly to their detriment and exposes a gap in the system that should be addressed.

Benefit versus risk assessment

The goal of the team who conducted the research is to provide a window into the current situation and hopefully open things up so that more studies will be conducted which are targeted at properly at the current situation. There is little currently existing research on the topic. Yet scientifically evaluating the efficacy, benefits and potential risks of the use of marijuana in this subset of the population is today of even greater urgency.