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Almost half of all cancer survivors in the United States reported using cannabis, with nearly half of those who used cannabis saying that their use had increased following their diagnosis, a new study found. 

Published last month in the journal Cancers, the study, entitled Cannabis Use Among Cancer Survivors: Use, Pattern, Product Type, and Timing of Use, compiled the results of a survey of 1,886 cancer survivors across 41 states. 

The study found that 915 (48%) had used cannabis in their lifetime, and of these, 36% were current users. Of those who started using marijuana after their diagnosis, 40% considered using cannabis during their cancer treatment and 25% continued to use cannabis after completing treatment. Of the survivors, 48% said that they increased their cannabis use following their diagnosis. 

Of the respondents, 71% said they prefer consuming dry cannabis flower. This was followed by Cannabidiol oil (CBD) at 46% of respondents, and cannabis candies at 40%. The researchers also found that baked goods, creams, tinctures, and gels were popular among cancer survivors. Smoking was the most popular intake method, reported by 68.9% of respondents. 

The report does not state how effective the survivors felt that marijuana was in treating their cancer symptoms. 

"A need to strengthen cannabis regulatory frameworks"

The researchers wrote that “there is a need to educate healthcare providers (HCPs) and survivors on current evidence of cannabis use and strengthen cannabis regulatory frameworks to optimize benefits and minimize adverse events from cannabis use in cancer treatment.”

The report states that every year another 2 million cancer cases are identified in the United States. 

The researchers wrote that there is “some evidence to support cannabis use in oncology to alleviate cancer-related symptoms and improve survivors' quality of life. Amidst conflicting evidence on the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis in managing cancer symptoms, it is the only effective agent for some cancer patients to ameliorate the debilitating symptoms they experience.”

They added that even though there is growing demand “for the use of cannabis in treating cancer-related symptoms, survivors do not always receive information on the different cannabis products from their healthcare providers.” 

The researchers wrote that the findings of the study have several implications. Namely that “regulatory guidance is even more critical at this time. As cannabis becomes more accessible for medicinal and recreational use, it is important to strengthen the regulatory framework for its use to minimize the untoward effects of cannabis use in cancer management.”

In addition, healthcare providers should receive training on the benefits and risks of medicinal marijuana in cancer management, according to the researchers. 

Reclassifying cannabis to Schedule III

The results of the study were published less than a month before a 252-page review by scientists from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that “there exists some credible scientific support for the medical use of marijuana.”

The content of the review was first reported on Matt Zorn and Shawn Pennington’s blog “On Drugs,” following a Freedom of Information Act request. The review stated that “marijuana has a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in Schedules I and II,” and that “despite the high prevalence of non-medical use of marijuana, an overall evaluation of epidemiological indicators suggests that it does not produce serious outcomes compared to other drugs in Schedules I and II.” 

The review was at the center of a recommendation made by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August to reschedule marijuana to Schedule III. The recommendation came in a letter sent to the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) by a top official at the HHS. 

In December, DEA official Michael Miller wrote to U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that the DEA will have the final say on scheduling cannabis, no matter the findings of the report. 

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I controlled substance, along with “hard drugs'' like PCP, heroin, and crack cocaine. Schedule I substances are defined by the DEA as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. 

Schedule III drugs on the other hand are defined by the DEA as drugs with a modest to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Examples of Schedule III drugs include Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, and testosterone. 

Even though it falls far short of federal legalization, reclassifying cannabis as Schedule III would be a major breakthrough for the industry. Most directly, it would mean the end of the 280E tax code which prohibits cannabis companies from deducting business expenses in tax returns, a serious burden on the industry. 

When news of the HHS letter emerged in August, cannabis law firm Vicente LLP wrote that it “marked a historic day for the cannabis industry” and referred to it as “a critical step toward the end of cannabis prohibition."

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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