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Oncologists continue prescribing marijuana even without sufficient knowledge, says study

Recommending the use of medical marijuana for patients fighting cancer has become a common practice among doctors even while enough evidence to support its use is not available. The fact was corroborated by a recent survey which concluded that nearly half the number of oncologists who prescribe medical marijuana to cancer patients did not feel sufficiently informed about its medicinal use. Medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 American states and the District of Columbia.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in May 2018, was the first-of-its kind nationally represented survey conducted on a population-based sample of medical oncologists. It intended to evaluate the knowledge, attitude and practices followed by oncologists after medicinal use of marijuana was decriminalized in various states.

Discrepancy observed between doctors’ knowledge and practices

For the survey, 400 oncologists from different parts of the country were emailed a questionnaire in November 2016 of which only 237 (63 percent) responded. The questionnaire inquired whether the oncologists discussed medical marijuana with their patients, if they recommended it and how confident they felt in doing so.

On analyzing the responses, the researchers observed a “concerning discrepancy” between the doctors’ knowledge and their practices.

  • Although, marijuana was discussed by around 80 percent doctors, the majority of such conversations were initiated by patients.
  • Around 46 percent doctors recommended the drug to treat cancer-related problems.
  • Almost 56 percent of those who recommended marijuana for treatment did not feel sufficiently informed about the drug’s medicinal use.
  • Lack of sufficient knowledge left many patients unsure of the kind of products to be used, their dosages and what might actually work for them.
  • Medical practitioners in states where medical marijuana has been legalized felt more knowledgeable about its use compared to those practicing in states where the drug was still illegal.
  • Discussions and recommendations of medical marijuana were more common in western states.
  • Higher practice volume and employment with an outpatient setting affected the likeliness of a practitioner recommending medical marijuana.
  • Around two-thirds of the oncologists believed that medical marijuana, in combination with standard treatment, could work as an effective treatment option for pain and other symptoms of cancer treatment like nausea, unwanted weight loss or lack of appetite.

Concrete evidence required

Lead author Dr. Ilana Braun, a cancer psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said that oncologists were drawing inspiration to use marijuana from studies that were published in support of treating various diseases or research on pharmaceutical cannabinoids. These studies were published on the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) website and stated that medical marijuana could help in managing the side effects of chemotherapy, including pain and nausea.

The survey was limited to only medical marijuana or non-pharmaceutical cannabis products provided by doctors for therapeutic use. Other pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids, like the synthetic analog of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting were not included in the study.

Having requisite knowledge to base one’s medical recommendations is important to provide optimum quality care services to patients. However, the study proved that the field of medical marijuana is still nascent and requires further research to provide concrete evidence of the efficacy of the drug in treating ailments.

Recovery from drug addiction

Marijuana should not be treated as an alternative to conventional methods of treating cancer as its effects are unpredictable and may vary from person to person. Using weed can lead to a number of side effects like rapid heart rate, dizziness and low blood pressure.

If you or someone you know is battling an addiction to drugs or any other substance, the Recover Mental Health can assist you by connecting you with the best drug treatment center in your vicinity. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-593-2339 or chat online with one of our experts to know more about evidence-based drug abuse therapy used to help one overcome addiction at a credible drug rehab facility.

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