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Cannabis used for symptom relief in nearly half of women with breast cancer

25th October 2021

Cannabis use for the relief of symptoms in women with breast cancer was reported by 42% those in a US survey of an online health group.

An anonymous survey of cannabis (CB) use found that 42% of women with breast cancer were using it for the relief of symptoms, according research conducted by the online support group, Breastcancer.org, Pennsylvania, US. The use of medicinal CB among those with cancer is not new and has previously been reported by nearly a quarter of respondents with a range of different cancer and mostly for pain relief. In addition, other work has found that 1 in 5 patients of those with cancer admitted to taking CB during chemotherapy. Although in the US, federal law states that the possession of cannabis is illegal, except within approved research settings, as of May 2021, 36 states and four territories allow for the medical use of cannabis products and in many cases, this can be for cancer.

For the present study, the researchers developed their survey and posted it online and members of Breastcancer.org were invited to participate through messaging boards, social media and email newsletters. The survey collected demographic data as well as breast cancer variables e.g., type, stage and treatment status, together with information on their use of cannabis such as timing of use in relation to therapy, e.g., before, during or after treatment, products used, sources and perceptions of the safety of cannabis.

Findings

A total of 612 completed surveys were available for analysis from women with a mean age of 57 years. A total of 64% of respondents reported being very or extremely interested in the medicinal use of cannabis, with the most common source of information being websites (67%) and family and friends (56%). However, only 39% had discussed the use of CB with their physician.

Overall, 42% (257/612) reported having used cannabis although only 23% (58) mentioned that this was specifically for medical purposes, with the remainder using it both medically and for recreational purposes. Among the 257 respondents using cannabis, 79% had used it alongside conventional treatment and 54% reported using it after the completion of therapy. The most common reasons for taking cannabis were for the relief of pain (78%), insomnia (70%),  anxiety (57%), stress (50%) and nausea/vomiting (46%). Moreover, 75% of those using CB believed that it was extremely or very helpful, at relieving their symptoms. Of more concern, was that 57% of those using cannabis stated that this was because they found no other way of treating their symptoms and how 49% stated that they were using CB in the belief that it could treat their cancer.

Interestingly, 78% of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed, that cannabis should be viewed similarly to other plant-based medicines with 71% stating that the benefits of cannabis outweighed its risks.

Commenting on their findings, the researchers noted how the use of CB during therapy was a concern, given the limited data available on interactions. In addition, they suggested that medical providers should discuss the risks and benefits of using CB in those with cancer.

Citation

Weiss MC et al. A Coala-T-Cannabis Survey Study of Breast Cancer Patients’ Use of Cannabis Before, During, and After Treatment. Cancer 2021