Marijuana Use is Lower in Cancer Patients

Despite the growing legalization and social acceptance of marijuana, its use is still lower among cancer patients, according to a study published in the journal Cancer.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from nearly 20,000 people over a span of four years. The results showed that reports of marijuana use peaked at 9% for cancer patients, compared to 14% among people with no cancer history.

“Even when we looked at whether someone used cannabis over the four years of observation and we control for things like age and race, cancer patients are still not increasing their use over time like the general population,” said study lead author Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for population science and interim co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center via a press release. “I would have expected them to have at least mirrored what was happening in the general population.”

“Because of law enforcement changing, we expect to see changes in attitudes and perceived benefits and harms,” said study co-author Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., Harrison Scholar at VCU Massey Cancer Center and assistant professor of health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine. “This work gives us perspective on prevalence of cannabis use among cancer patients and how it has changed over time.”

With marijuana use rates relatively flat among cancer patients between 2018, one has to wonder why the population isn’t following the same trends. “There is that element of a life-changing moment when you have cancer,” said Fuemmeler, who is also a professor of health behavior and policy in the VCU School of Medicine and holds the Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey. “You have to be mindful of your health and contemplate whether something like cannabis is helpful or hurtful.”


The authors note the need for more research into to health benefits of marijuana use in cancer patients to facilitate informed decision making. “As with all health decisions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before making any big changes,” said study co-author Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D., the Thomas Palliative Care Endowed Chair and director of palliative care at VCU Massey Cancer Center and professor of internal medicine at VCU. “Now that marijuana is becoming legal in more parts of the country, we’re expecting more questions, and although we may not have all the answers, we’re here to listen and provide our patients with the best available evidence.”