Rates of marijuana, prescription opioid use higher among patients with cancer

Photo Credit: Health Mil

Photo Credit: Health Mil

A new study published in the journal Cancer has found rates of marijuana use have increased significantly among cancer patients, likely as a result of expanding cannabis access. The study looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to study self-reported marijuana and prescription use trends between 2005 and 2014 among cancer patients and those without cancer, who were the controls. The survey involved 19,604 respondents between 20-60 years old. The 826 patients with cancer averaged 47.4 years old and were 66.7% women, and the 1,652 patients noncancer controls with similar propensity scores averaged 46.7 years old and 66% were women. Compared to controls, more patients with cancer reported using marijuana in the past year (40.3% in cancer patients vs 38% in controls) and current marijuana use (8.7% in cancer patients vs 6.6% in controls). Between the 2005 and 20014, marijuana use among cancer patients increased 118%, while there was only a 12.5% increase among the controls. It’s important to note that while opioid use increased among both cancer patients and controls, researchers calculated opioid use based on prescription access and did not account for potential abuse.

Those with cancer were also more likely to use prescription opioids than those without. Chief of the central nervous system tumor and liver tumor services at UC San Diego Health Jona Hattangadi-Gluth explains, “Medical marijuana legalization has previously been associated with a reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse, suggesting that if patients are, in fact, substituting marijuana for opioids, this may introduce an opportunity for reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality… Of course, it will also be important to identify risks and adverse effects of marijuana, which has not previously been studied in large randomized clinical trials, given it’s scheduling as a class 1 controlled substance.” He continues, “These data provide the first insight into marijuana and opioid use over time in people with cancer across the United States… Prospective clinical trials are needed to quantify the efficacy of marijuana in cancer-specific pain as well as the risk [for] opioid misuse in this patient population.”

This information has been provided by Healio and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.