A third of Canadians with cancer saying yes to cannabis: Alberta study

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About of third of cancer patients taking part in a University of Alberta-affiliated study report using medical cannabis, a percentage that climbed about seven points between 2007 and 2016.

“Within this study cohort of Canadian adults with current cancer diagnosis, cannabis use is not uncommon,” conclude authors of the study published this month in Expert Reviews in Pharmacoeconomics & Outcome Research.

Under the original Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, which took effect in 2001, people who had authorization from their health care practitioner could access dried marijuana for medical purposes. They could either grow weed themselves, appoint a designated grower or buy cannabis from a Health Canada supply.

Drawing data from the Canadian Community Health Survey for 2007 through 2016, cannabis use among the 4,667 participants rose from 27.7 per cent in 2007-2008 to 34.4 per cent in 2015-2016. Weed use increased throughout the study period, the study adds.

An earlier study by U of A researchers, involving adult patients attending cancer centres, cited 43 per cent of participants reported any lifetime use of cannabis, the lion’s share of them getting their weed from friends, with just 10 per cent getting it from regulated medical dispensaries and six per cent by other means.

Of those who reported consuming cannabis within six months before the survey, 36 per cent were new users. “Their reasons for use included cancer-related pain (46 per cent), nausea (34 per cent), other cancer symptoms (31 per cent) and non-cancer-related reasons (56 per cent).

FILE: A marijuana joint is rolled during the 4/20 event on the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds in Winnipeg on Fri., Apr. 20, 2018. / Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

In a blog, the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) notes that in the U.S., an earlier survey indicated that as many as 25 per cent of cancer patients use cannabis.

Despite the buy-in from some cancer patients, the Canadian Cancer Society appears not to be fully convinced.

“Research studies done so far do not give a clear answer about the effectiveness of smoking cannabis. Research does show that some cannabinoids can help with some symptoms and side effects, and drugs containing cannabinoids have been developed to treat pain, nausea and vomiting,” the information notes.

Senior man holds his hand to his mouth while feeling nauseous

“Drugs containing cannabinoids have been developed to treat pain, nausea and vomiting.” / PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

Research out of the U.K. earlier this year reports laboratory tests “have shown that a modified form of medicinal cannabis can kill or inhibit cancer cells without impacting normal cells, revealing its potential as a treatment rather than simply a relief medication.”

In Canada, it may be that with recreational cannabis being legalized two years ago, the current percentage of cancer patients using weed is even higher than it was in 2016. That said, whether people are using solely medical marijuana or recreational weed to manage their health-related symptoms is up for grabs.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) reported in July of 2019 that a quarter of medical cannabis consumers said it was more difficult to access cannabis since legalization.

Beyond access, supply issues, cannabis price or a mix of those three issues had resulted in 64 per cent of medical cannabis users under-dosing or stretching out their supply, CPA noted, citing findings of a survey jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, the Arthritis Society and CPA.

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