A new study conducted in Virginia has found that the general public currently consumes more cannabis than cancer patients.
The Virginia Commonwealth University of Massey Cancer Center (VCU) published a study in the journal Cancer on August 13, entitled “Cannabis use among cancer survivors in the United States: Analysis of a nationally representative sample,” which analyzed data from 19,055 people over a four-year period.
Lead author of the study, Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., who also holds the titles of associate director for population science and interim co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU expressed his surprise when they conclude their results. “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,” he said. “I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population.”
The study analyzed data collected between 2013 and 2018, which was a monumental time frame for cannabis legalization and growth of the industry. Data was collected from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, which surveys Americans’ smoking habits both in the vein of tobacco and cannabis. A VCU diagram shows that only nine percent of cancer patients consume cannabis within the four-year period, whereas 14 percent of the general public stated that they consumed.
Because of the industry boom during the study’s four-year time frame, study co-author Sunny Jung Kim, Ph. D., and also Harrison Scholar at VCU Massey Cancer Center and assistant professor of health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine, explains that the stigma against cannabis begins to be lifted, both with recreational consumers as well as medical patients. “Because of law enforcement changing, we expect to see changes in attitudes and perceived benefits and harms. This work gives us perspective on prevalence of cannabis use among cancer patients and how it has changed over time.”
One assertion as to why cancer patients are not consuming more cannabis today, according to Fuemmeler, is because of hesitation. “There is that element of a life-changing moment when you have cancer,” said Fuemmeler. “You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful.” The study results revealed, unsurprisingly, that people who experience higher amounts of pain are more likely to use cannabis. On the other hand, women, the elderly and people with “higher incomes, medical insurance or better mental health” were more likely to have lower levels of pain.
As is common in cannabis studies, the VCU researchers believe that more research is necessary to achieve better results. “As with all health decisions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before making any big changes,” said another study co-author, Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D. professor of internal medicine at VCU. “Now that marijuana is becoming legal in more parts of the country, we’re expecting more questions, and although we may not have all the answers, we’re here to listen and provide our patients with the best available evidence.”
The study of the relationship of cannabis and cancer has made increasing headway over the past few years. One Canadian study published in December 2020 found that more Canadians with cancer were using cannabis than in previous years. Another more recent study from July found that 71 percent of gynecological cancer patients found relief when consuming cannabis. The American Cancer Society writes that based on small studies, cannabis has been known to help treat patients experiencing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, neuropathic pain, increase their appetites, reduce the need for pain medication and more.