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Study Finds Cannabis Use Is Lower Among Patients With Cancer Than Those With No Cancer History


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In a study published by Do et al in the journal Cancer, researchers analyzed data from nearly 20,000 people over a span of 4 years. They found that reports of cannabis use peaked at 9% for those with a cancer history, compared to 14% among people with no cancer history.

“Even when we looked at whether someone used cannabis over the 4 years of observation and we controlled for things like age and race, patients with cancer are still not increasing their use over time like the general population,” said lead study author Bernard Fuemmeler, PhD, MPH, Associate Director for Population Science and Interim Co-Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center. “I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population.” 

Last month, three states—Virginia, South Dakota, and Connecticut—joined the ranks of more than a dozen others that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Alongside these changing laws, there has been a growing social acceptance of the drug.

Study Details and Findings

This paper drew on data collected between 2013 and 2018 from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH), which tracks a representative sample of Americans to survey smoking behaviors, including both tobacco and marijuana.

KEY POINTS

  • Over a span of 4 years, reports of cannabis use peaked at 9% for those with a cancer history, compared to 14% among people with no cancer history.
  • People who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use marijuana.
  • Lower rates of marijuana use were seen among women and older people, as well as those with higher incomes, medical insurance, or better mental health.

For people who never had cancer, rates of marijuana use rose during the 4-year PATH study period. This same period saw a wave of recreational marijuana legalization sweep across the nation. 

“Because of law enforcement changing, we expect to see changes in attitudes and perceived benefits and harms,” said study coauthor Sunny Jung Kim, PhD, Harrison Scholar at VCU Massey Cancer Center and Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine.

At the most recent survey, 8% of cancer survivors reported past-year cannabis use, compared with 15% of those without a cancer history. Across four time points, an estimated 3.8% of cancer survivors engaged with cannabis, as compared to 6.5% of those without a cancer history.

The analysis also revealed that people who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use marijuana. Lower rates of marijuana use were seen among women and older people, as well as those with higher incomes, medical insurance, or better mental health.

The authors note the need for greater research into the health effects of marijuana use for patients with cancer and survivors so that doctors and patients can have more informed conversations about whether the potential benefits might outweigh the risks.

The study authors concluded, “Although cannabis use prevalence is lower among cancer survivors, the reasons for use are not markedly different from those without a cancer history. Continued monitoring of use, reasons for use, and harms or benefits is warranted.”

Disclosure: This research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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