Quarter of Seattle cancer patients turn to marijuana to help cope with pain, stress and nausea

Doctor warns taking cannabis while being treated for cancer could be dangerous

Ian Johnston
Science Correspondent
Monday 25 September 2017 10:10
Cancer patients in Washington state, where personal use of cannabis is legal, have been taking the drug to help relieve various symptoms
Cancer patients in Washington state, where personal use of cannabis is legal, have been taking the drug to help relieve various symptoms

Nearly a quarter of cancer patients had used cannabis in the past year to help cope with symptoms including physical pain, nausea and depression, according to a new study in the US.

Researchers surveyed 926 patients at the Seattle Cancer Centre Alliance in the state of Washington, where personal use of the drug is legally allowed.

About 24 per cent of the group had used marijuana in the past year while 21 per cent had done so in the previous 30 days, according to a paper about the study in the journal Cancer. Some 66 per cent had used the drug at some point in their lives.

The patients, who either smoked or ate the drug, said they used to alleviate pain, nausea, stress, depression and insomnia, all associated with having cancer.

However most did not get information about its health effects from the medical establishment, but instead relied on sources outside the healthcare system.

And that could be a problem, one of the researchers, Dr Steven Pergam, warned.

“Cancer patients desire but are not receiving information from their cancer doctors about marijuana use during their treatment, so many of them are seeking information from alternate non-scientific sources,” he said.

Dr Pergam, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said using cannabis could have unwanted or potentially dangerous side-effects.

“We hope that this study helps to open up the door for more studies aimed at evaluating the risks and benefits of marijuana in this population,” he said.

“This is important, because if we do not educate our patients about marijuana, they will continue to get their information elsewhere.”

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they had a strong interest in learning more about taking marijuana during treatment for cancer from doctors and other healthcare professionals.

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