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New Study Shows Data on Cancer Survivors’ Cannabis Use, Effectiveness as Treatment

A study recently published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship found evidence that a majority of participants who are cancer survivors used cannabis to manage their symptoms.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Betty B. Marcus Chair in Cancer Prevention, and the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment, and co-written by four researchers. It analyzed a total of 1,886 participants, where 17.4% said that they currently consumed cannabis, 30.5% described themselves as “former” consumers, and 52.2% had never used cannabis before. Those who were either currently consuming or former consumers (about 510 participants) said that they found relief in using cannabis for “sleep disturbance (60%), pain (51%), stress (44%), nausea (34%), and mood disorder/depression (32%).” Additionally, one-fifth of the 510 (91) participants specifically used it to treat cancer, and half of those 510 participants that used cannabis to treat a specific condition “perceived that cannabis was helpful to a great extent in improving their symptoms.”

Only 167 participants said that they experienced negative side effects, including “suicidal thoughts (5%), intense nausea and vomiting (6%), depression (11%), anxiety (14%), breathing problems (31%), and interaction with cancer drugs (35%).”

Ultimately, participants found cannabis to be useful in their treatment. For example, of those who used cannabis for their nausea, 73.6% described the benefits as effective “to a great extent,” while only 24.4% said it was effective “very little,” and 1.9% said it was not effective at all. Overall, half of participants said that cannabis was useful “to a great extent,” while less than half said it was “somewhat effective,” only approximately 5% said they found cannabis to offer very little benefits.

Similar results were shown in the percentage of participants who used cannabis to treat cancer. Researchers wrote that 47.7% of participants found cannabis to be helpful in their treatment “to a great extent,” while 34.5% described it as “somewhat” useful, and 13.8% said there was “very little” usefulness, and only 4% said it wasn’t useful at all.

Researchers also pointed out that most participants weren’t aware of the potential health risks of cannabis during their treatment. “Only a few were aware of the health risks of cannabis use during cancer management,” researchers wrote. “Of the 167 survivors who reported awareness of potential health risks from cannabis use, the awareness of adverse health risks associated with cannabis use was low: suicidal thoughts (5%), intense nausea and vomiting (6%), depression (11%), anxiety (14%), breathing problems (31%), and interaction with cancer drugs (35%).”

In response to this data, researchers added the necessity for more research. “With most survivors reporting benefits from cannabis use in cancer management, there is a need for more studies to strengthen current evidence on cannabis therapeutics,” wrote researchers. “Also, there is a need for policies, clear guidelines, and cannabis-based educational programs for healthcare providers and survivors on the use, benefits, and risks of cannabis in cancer management.”

Researchers further explained the importance of engaging in conversations about cannabis treatments with healthcare providers as well “…regarding the current state of evidence on cannabis use during cancer treatment to help them make informed decisions regarding their healthcare.”

A NORML report published in late December shared that 32,000 peer-reviewed scientific research papers and reports have been published since 2013. Additionally, NORML said that recorded cannabis research has been going on since the 19th century. “As of this writing, cites over 45,900 scientific papers on marijuana dating back to the year 1840. Available to the public online since 1996, PubMed is a free resource supporting the search and retrieval of biomedical and life sciences literature,” NORML wrote.

Based on this information, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano argued against those who claim that there isn’t enough evidence of cannabis’ effectiveness as a treatment for many conditions. “Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” said Armentano. “It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”

Meanwhile, research papers expressing the effectiveness of cannabis for cancer patients continue to grow in number. Earlier in 2023, one study conducted by both American, Canadian, and Irish researchers found that cannabis was both a safe and effective way to treat cancer pain. Later last year, a University of Buffalo researcher announced that they received a $3.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study how cannabis affects cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy. Other psychedelic substances are also being studied in relation to cancer as well, such as an October 2023 study that showed how psilocybin and MDMA are useful in treating anxiety in cancer patients.

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