Nearly half of U.S. breast cancer patients use medical cannabis to treat the side effects of chemo, surgery, radiation, etc.

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A national survey of 612 breast cancer patients found that almost half of them – 42% – use medical cannabis (MC) to deal with the unwanted side effects of their cancer treatment.

The 257 people who reported using CBD &/or THC did so to deal with, in order, pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress, and nausea/vomiting. 

What’s more, 75% of them reported that MC was extremely or very helpful at relieving their symptoms and, crucially, 57% said that they had found no other way of handling the side effects of their treatment.

These were people undergoing chemotherapy, immune therapy for advanced/metastatic breast cancer, radiation therapy to the breast area or other parts of the body, &/or a mastectomy or lumpectomy.

The majority of the patients said they preferred CBD-only or CBD-dominant products to THC, probably because CBD doesn’t get you high.

These finding are a huge deal not just because because MC affords symptom relief – no small thing – but, as the researchers point out, because the unwanted side effects of cancer treatment can so impair their quality of life that it will reduce treatment adherence and thus worsen their prognosis.

As good and as important as these findings are they could be even better. That’s because the study also reports that cancer physicians feel they lack the knowledge needed to discuss cannabis with their patients. They cite a national survey of 400 medical oncologists that says 70% felt unprepared to discuss cannabis use and to make clinical recommendations for their patients.

Which would explain, as the breast cancer survey found, that when cancer patients seek information on MC very few of them, about 4%, turn to their doctors. Instead, people are looking to the internet, friends, family, or other patients.

And this raises an important question: How many more cancer patients could be helped if doctors better understood MC and were comfortable talking to their patients about it?

This is a problem recognized within the profession. For instance, a JAMA paper concluded that investigation into CBD should become a public health priority to catch up with the public’s interest; and, a Mayo Clinic report called on physicians to be better informed about CBD and encouraged them not to disregard their patients’ interest in it.

Otherwise, as Caroline MacCallum, MD, who teaches at the Univ. of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, puts it, the patient will continue to suffer – or die.

From the breast cancer survey, treatment side effects addressed by using MC:

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