Marijuana use among cancer patients low compared to general public, study finds

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Between 2013-18, marijuana use among cancer patients peaked at 9 percent, compared to 14 percent among the general public, according to research findings published Aug. 13 in Cancer

The study, led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, drew upon data from a nationally representative survey that asked participants about their smoking behaviors. More than 19,000 people were surveyed between 2013-18, a period in which many states began legalizing recreational use of marijuana. 

Across the four year period, the rates of marijuana use rose among people who never had cancer, and remained flat among cancer patients. 

Reports of marijuana use peaked at 9 percent for cancer patients, and 14 percent among those with no cancer history, findings showed. 

Regardless of cancer history, people with higher levels of pain were more likely to report using marijuana. At the same time, researchers observed lower use rates among women, older people, those with higher incomes, medical insurance, and those with better mental health, compared to their counterparts. 

"Even when we looked at whether someone used cannabis over the four years of observation and we control for things like age and race, cancer patients are still not increasing their use over time like the general population," said Bernard Fuemmeler, PhD, lead study and associate director for population science at VCU Massey Cancer Center. "I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population." 

Rates likely remained flat among cancer patients because "There is an element of a life-changing moment when you have cancer," said Gordon Ginder, MD, chair of cancer research at Massey. "You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful." 

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