The medical marijuana legalization movement has spent decades tugging at the heartstrings of Americans by suggesting that the herb of all highness is, in many cases, the best remedy for cancer and, in some cases, even a cure.
The line between reality and hype has presumably sparked an uprising in cancer patients using marijuana to cope with the symptoms of the disease rather than relying solely on traditional treatments. However, a new study shines some light on cannabis use against perilous tumors, and it turns out it’s not as prevalent as you might think.
Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center found that cannabis use is lower in cancer patients than those with absolutely no history of the disease. The study, recently published in the journal Cancer, shows that only around 9% of cancer patients dabbled in the doobie compared to 14% who have never received a cancer diagnosis.
As far as researchers can tell, not as many cancer patients are using marijuana to combat the various stages of this scourge as advocates would have us believe. Not even now that legalization has taken hold in over half the nation are cancer patients using weed more than modern medicine.
“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,” study lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., associate director for population science and interim co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey Cancer Center, said in a statement. “I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population,” he added.
According to the CDC, there are somewhere around 22 million regular monthly marijuana users in the United States.
Although there was assuredly a time when more cancer patients were using cannabis, a significant decline happened between 2013 and 2018, the study shows. This drop was, presumably, because patients tried it, and it wasn’t as effective as reported. Either that or they watched friends and family members using cannabis for cancer and watched them die horrific deaths.
By now, people are coming to grips with the fact that smoking marijuana isn’t the be-all, end-all cancer treatment, and they are choosing more scientific methods. “You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful,” Fuemmeler said.
The findings, however, do not entirely discount marijuana as a treatment option for cancer patients. Researchers said that patients who experienced higher pain levels were more likely to use marijuana than those who didn’t.
But that doesn’t mean cannabis is an effective reliever of cancer pain. Some of the most comprehensive medical research published on this subject over the past few years shows that the best marijuana can do for people with cancer is tame their nausea. Other than that, there is zero evidence that marijuana can cure or impact cancer at all.
Interestingly, the lowest rates of cannabis use were found in women, people with higher incomes, those with health insurance, and mentally stable folks. In short, researchers believe that cancer patients with lower incomes and without adequate coverage to pay for remedies (including prescription drugs) within the healthcare industry are the ones seeking out medical marijuana for this disease.
The study authors admitted that much more research is needed before the medical community fully understands the relationship between cannabis and cancer. Yet, they urge patients to engage in open and honest conversations with their primary care physicians and oncologists before going all-in on cannabis.
“As with all health decisions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before making any big changes,” said study co-author Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D., the Palliative Care Endowed Chair and director of palliative care at Massey Cancer Center and a professor of internal medicine at VCU.