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Cancer care providers reluctant to prescribe marijuana

Researchers report that just 46 percent of oncology providers feel comfortable recommending medical marijuana to patients, despite 73 percent saying they understand the drug could provide a benefit.

By Tauren Dyson
Cancer care providers reluctant to prescribe marijuana
Only 46 percent of oncology providers feel comfortable recommending medical marijuana to patients, despite 73 percent saying they understand the drug could provide a benefit. Photo by 7raysmarketing/Pixabay

May 31 (UPI) -- Medical marijuana may be legal in parts of the United States, but many cancer doctors are reluctant to prescribe it, new research shows.

Only 46 percent of oncology providers feel comfortable recommending medical marijuana to patients, despite 73 percent saying they understand the drug could provide a benefit, according to a study presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology's 2019 annual meeting.

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Many providers say they still don't know much about what type, amount or form of marijuana to prescribe, or how it may interact with other medications.

"I think in some cases we're missing out on providing a useful tool," said Ashley E. Glode, assistant professor at the University of Colorado and study first author, in a press release. "Providers think it has benefit, but aren't comfortable recommending it."

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Respondents to the survey included 47 physicians, 53 registered nurses, 17 pharmacists, and 7 "other" oncology providers

Just over 79 percent of respondents reported they would feel more confident prescribing medical marijuana to patients if they could learn more about it through an education program. They also want better guidelines explaining the conditions under which medical marijuana should be prescribed.

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Oncology providers express concern about potential legal and regulatory issues recommending medical marijuana may raise, since the Drug Enforcement Agency still considers it a Schedule 1 drug.

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Providers who work at academic institutions also have worries that recommending medical marijuana may threaten future federal funding.

"Still, the biggest issue that providers saw is the lack of certainty in dosing," Glode said. "The issue is it's not regulated -- a dispensary might say a product has this much THC and this much CBD, but no one is testing that for sure."

Glode said that limited data suggest patients should start "low and slow" -- no more than 10mg of THC per dose -- but doctors are still hesitant of being unsure what patients are getting. And since inhaling and smoking marijuana can potentially damage the lungs, doctors are pointing patients toward edibles, oils and tinctures -- all of which she said do not have good dosage data comparisons.

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According to the survey, 68 percent of providers got information about medical marijuana from their patients and 55 percent looked to news media to learn more about the drug.

"Knowledge is an issue," Glode said. "If we could do a better job educating our healthcare providers, it might be used more often and potentially more safely."

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