Study Indicates Rise In Cannabis Use By Cancer Patients Over Time

A new study published online ahead of print in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cancer shows that marijuana use is a common opioid alternative among cancer patients, and that usage has increased over time in the United States.

For the study, Jona Hattangasi-Gluth, MD, and Kathryn Ries Tringale, MD from the University of California, San Diego analyzed data from 19,604 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey respondents between 2005 and 2014.

“Medical marijuana legalization has previously been associated with a reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse,” said Dr. Hattangadi-Gluth. “Suggesting that if patients are in-fact substituting marijuana for opioids, this may introduce an opportunity for reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality.”

Of the 826 cancer patients identified in the survey, 40.3 percent responded that they had used cannabis within the past year, compared to 38 percent of those without cancer.

The study also showed that 13.9 percent of cancer patients were more likely to use prescription opioids, nearly twice that of people without cancer.

Dr. Hattangasi-Gluth says that identifying any possible risks or adverse effects of marijuana bears importance, though its current Schedule I status has hindered studies on large randomized clinical trials.

“Prospective clinical trials are needed to quantify the efficacy of marijuana in cancer-specific pain as well as the risk of opioid misuse in this patient population,” said Dr. Tringale.

Authors of the study conclude that the increased marijuana use and no significant changes in opioid use are a reflection of the growing legalization and broader availability of cannabis.

A separate study published on March 26 revealed that cancer patients are more likely to use more potent cannabis strains with higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) over time as well.