Americans with cancer are more likely to use marijuana and prescription opioids than those without cancer, and the use of medical marijuana by this group is on the rise, new research shows.
Pain is common among cancer patients, but many do not get adequate pain relief, the researchers noted.
The new study looked at more than 800 adults with cancer who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2014. The patients were compared with about 1,650 adults without cancer.
The findings showed that 40 percent of the cancer patients had used marijuana within the past year, compared with 38 percent of those without cancer.
People with cancer were also more likely to use prescription opioids than those without the disease -- nearly 14 percent versus just over 6 percent, respectively.
When analyzing rates of marijuana and opioid use among more than 19,000 survey respondents, including those with and without cancer, the investigators found increasing rates of marijuana use over the 10-year study period, probably because legislative changes increased its availability.
More clinical trials are needed to asses just how effective medical marijuana is against cancer-related pain, said co-lead author Dr. Kathryn Ries Tringale, of the University of California, San Diego.
Prescription opioid use remained stable among cancer patients, the study authors said.
A cancer diagnosis did not significantly affect the odds of substance abuse between 2005 and 2014, according to the study published online April 22 in the journal Cancer.
Study co-author Dr. Jona Hattangadi-Gluth, noted that legalization of medical marijuana has been associated with a drop in hospitalizations for opioid abuse or dependence. If patients are substituting marijuana for opioids, it may be an opportunity for reducing opioid-related illness and death, she suggested.
"Of course, it will also be important to identify risks and adverse effects of marijuana, which has not previously been studied on large randomized clinical trials, given its scheduling as a class 1 controlled substance," Hattangadi-Gluth said in a journal news release.
The American Cancer Society has more on cancer pain.
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