Cannabis to Treat Cancer: Younger Populations Reluctant to Disclose as Overall Use Becomes More Accepted

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Researchers addressed the use of cannabis to treat cancer symptoms in rural and urban areas, as well as patients’ comfortability discussing it with their providers.

Despite most ages and populations favoring the use of cannabis to treat various cancers, younger age groups expressed the most significant reluctance when discussing cannabis use with their providers, according to a poster presented at ASCO 2024, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.1

Key Takeaways

  • In 2 posters presented at ASCO 2024, researchers discussed patients' comfortability discussing cannabis use with their providers for the treatment of cancer, as well as the overall data for cannabis use in rural or urban areas of Minnesota.
  • Their results showed that as age increased, so did comfortability discussing cannabis use with providers. A vast majority of both urban and rural populations reported the potential benefits of using cannabis to treat various cancers.

Overall cannabis use, perception, and attitudes towards cannabis are relatively similar across populations, but comfortability discussing it with a provider increases with age. This highlights the need for better patient-provider relationships when discussing cannabis treatment for cancer.

“Although cannabis use among cancer patients to manage cancer treatment-related symptoms continues to grow, little is known about patterns in patient-provider communication regarding cannabis use,” the authors said.

Overall cannabis use is relatively similar across populations, but comfortability discussing it with a provider increases with age. | image credit: Elroi / stock.adobe.com

Overall cannabis use is relatively similar across populations, but comfortability discussing it with a provider increases with age. | image credit: Elroi / stock.adobe.com

Furthermore, authors of another poster presented at ASCO 2024 identified the similarities and differences between cannabis use in rural and urban areas in Minnesota. In 2023, cannabis was legalized for recreational use in Minnesota. While its use for improvement of quality of life for cancer patients has been positive, researchers were unaware of specific populations’ sentiments toward its treatment for various cancers.2

In both posters, researchers aimed to address the acceptance of cannabis use for patients with cancer.

READ MORE: Cannabis Legalization's Impact on Prenatal Marijuana Use

Patients’ Willingness to Discuss Cannabis Treatment for Cancer by Age

“Age was a significant factor in disclosing cannabis use to healthcare providers, with disparities noted by age group,” wrote the authors.1

The study, using self-reported data from an anonymous survey, included 495 patients with cancer (51.8% male; 39.4% Hispanic; mean age, 45.9 years). Age was categorized into 3 groups: 20 to 39 years old, 40 to 59 years old, and 60 years or older. Finally, 43.8% of participants were undergoing treatment and 35.4% were undergoing follow-up treatment or were finished treatment.

Amongst the entire study population, 45.5% reported cannabis use in the past 30 days and a majority of participants expressed comfortability when discussing use with their providers.

However, when stratified by age group, 40.8% of participants 20 to 39 years old expressed being uncomfortable with discussing cannabis use with their providers. But as age increased in each group, discomfort in discussion decreased. For those 40 to 59 years old, 21.0% expressed discomfort and 5.6% of individuals aged 60 or older reported discomfort discussing with their providers.1

“These insights highlight the importance of considering age-related factors and treatment status when addressing cannabis use discussions within the oncology setting,” they concluded.1

Comparing Cannabis Use for Cancer Treatment in Rural and Urban Areas

Analyzing cannabis use for patients with cancer in rural and urban areas of Minnesota, 688 participants were given a survey to address their cannabis use during treatment and after diagnosis. It was also important that zip codes were recorded to stratify participants by rural or urban locales.

“Of 688 participants, 54% were classified as rural and 46% as urban. Of all respondents across both groups, 60% reported never using cannabis, 56% reported cannabis use during cancer treatment, and 21% reported use since cancer diagnosis,” wrote the authors.2

Over 87% of both the rural and urban groups believed that there are potential benefits of cannabis use for the treatment of cancer. However, similar to younger populations expressing little comfortability in discussing cannabis use with their providers, most respondents from rural and urban locales also reported an unwillingness to discuss cannabis treatment with their providers. Furthermore, there were even fewer reports of providers recommending cannabis treatment to their rural or urban patients.

While hurdles regarding open patient-provider discussions persisted across both study cohorts, the sentiments of patients with cancer regarding cannabis treatment were positive in both studies.

“Both groups experienced significant cancer-related symptom burden improvement after use of cannabis. While the urban cohort showed greater interest in future cannabis use, the rural cohort reported greatest benefits in relief of stress and fatigue after cannabis use, two important measures of quality of life. Our data suggest that providers rarely recommend or talk about cannabis use to cancer patients,” concluded the authors.2

Click here for more of our coverage from ASCO 2024.

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References
1. Baral A, Diggs BN, Marrakchi El Fellah R, et al. Experience of young patients with cancer discussing cannabis with their providers. Presented at: ASCO 2024; May 30-June 3; Chicago, Il.
2. Borrero M, Jewett P, Zylla DM, et al. Cannabis use for cancer-related symptoms in rural versus urban Minnesota. Presented at: ASCO 2024; May 30-June 3; Chicago, Il.
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