Cancer patients experience multiple symptoms throughout their illness, and some report benefit from the use of cannabis. There are concerns that many patients are accessing products inappropriate for their situation and potentially putting themselves at risk. In the present study, we aimed to capture the prevalence of cannabis use among cancer patients at BC Cancer before recreational legalization in Canada and to identify the reasons that patients take cannabis, the various routes of administration they use, and the reasons that prior users stopped.
Patients were eligible if, on the selected study day (15 August 2018), they were scheduled for an appointment at any of the 6 BC Cancer sites. Eligible patients were mailed a survey.
Of surveys sent to 2998 patients, 821 (27.4%) were returned and included in analysis. Of those respondents, 23% were currently using cannabis-based products, almost exclusively for medical purposes, and an additional 28% had been users in the past (most often recreationally). Of the patients currently using cannabis, 31% had medical authorization. The most common symptoms that the current users were targeting were pain, insomnia, nausea, and anxiety; many were also hoping for anticancer effects.
More than half the respondents had tried cannabis at some time, and almost one quarter of respondents were currently taking cannabis to help manage their symptoms or treat their cancer, or both. Many more patients would consider use with appropriate guidance from a health care professional. More research is needed to inform physicians and patients about safe uses and doses and about the potential adverse effects of cannabis use.