Oncologists are likely to recommend cannabis to cancer patients, despite lacking knowledge on the plant

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A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that most oncologists are likely to recommend medical cannabis to cancer patients, even though half of them don’t feel they are knowledgeable in doing so.

The study was conducted in 2016 where the researchers randomly sampled 400 medical oncologists from across the country. Only 63% actually participated in the survey.

The responses were very positive in favor or medical marijuana, but revealed a strong indication that oncologists are not confident in their knowledge on medical marijuana as a treatment for cancer-related illnesses.

The study specifically focused on medical marijuana, defined as non-pharmaceutical cannabis products that providers recommend for therapeutic use and did not include pharmaceutical grade cannabinoids.

Nearly half of those surveys said they would recommend cannabis to cancer patients but of those respondents, half don’t believe they are fully knowledgeable on the medicine, according to Dr. Ilana Brain, the study’s lead author and a cancer psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.

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There is currently a lack of high-quality evidence that supports the use of medical cannabis for cancer-related illnesses which could be why so many oncologists feel ill-equipped to discuss or recommend products to their patients.

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

The study found that about two-thirds of oncologists in states where medical marijuana is legal believe that medical marijuana is beneficial when used in combination with standard treatments for symptoms such as pain, poor appetite and weight loss. Fewer oncologists feel prepared to recommend cannabis to cancer patients in states where marijuana is still illegal.

The study also found that oncologists in Western states are far more likely to discuss and recommend cannabis treatment options with patients than oncologists in southern states.

The experts worry that ignorance around the plant is leaving patients in the dark about their options and what products are best to use to treat their symptoms. More research needs to be done so that doctors can recommend products with the proper knowledge.

Braun plans to conduct clinical trials to study the effects of medical marijuana for symptoms related to cancer.

"Ensuring that physicians have a sufficient knowledge on which to base their medical recommendations is essential to providing high-quality care," said Eric Campbell, study co-author and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "Our study suggests that there is clearly room for improvement when it comes to medical marijuana."

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