As more states legalize medical marijuana, two key groups — researchers whose job is it to understand its benefits and drawbacks, and physicians charged with advising potential users — are struggling to catch up with policymakers.
Ilana Braun, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of adult psychosocial oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, led a survey of cancer physicians around the country, exploring their attitudes and actions on medical marijuana.
The survey was sent to 200 oncologists, with a 63 percent response rate. We asked Braun to outline her findings, which were published last month in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
GAZETTE: What are the highlights of the survey?
BRAUN: I think the key messages from the data are, first of all, though almost half of oncologists surveyed recommend medical marijuana clinically, less than a third feel equipped with enough knowledge to make such recommendations.
Our second key message is that medical marijuana is a salient topic in today’s cancer care. Eighty percent of oncologists we surveyed hold discussions with patients about medical marijuana. Sixty-seven percent believe it to be useful as an adjunct to standard pain management, and 68 percent for poor appetite cachexia [illness-related weight loss and frailty].
The third key message is that there are some nonmedical variables that affect how oncologists approach medical marijuana, and these include region of practice, practice setting, and the number of patients they see.
GAZETTE: So a significant percentage of oncologists who recommend medical marijuana to their patients also say they didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to do so. How do we make sense of that? I assume it’s not as simple as these folks being bad doctors.
BRAUN: Right, and I don’t want to imply that. Unfortunately, our survey wasn’t designed to drill down into