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Medical Marijuana for Treating Pediatric Cancer and Treatment Effects?

Survey of Clinicians Highlights Concerns About Efficacy and Lack of Research

An examination of healthcare provider views on the use of medical marijuana for children with cancer found that 92% were willing to facilitate access in jurisdictions where the treatment is legal. However, providers who were legally able to certify for marijuana use were less likely to do so for this patient population. Study coauthor Kelly Michelson, MD, MPH, critical care physician at Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, commented, “It is not surprising that providers who are eligible to certify for medical marijuana were more cautious about recommending it, given that their licensure could be jeopardized due to federal prohibition.” She noted as well that some institutions, including Lurie Children’s, give primacy to federal law over state law with respect to engagement of medical marijuana. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Pediatric oncology clinicians are frequently asked for access to medical marijuana for treatment of cancer and cancer treatment effects that include pain, depression, anxiety, and nausea. In the survey of responses from 288 clinicians from Illinois, Washington, and Massachusetts, nearly 1/3 of respondents reported that they had been so requested. 63% responded that they had no concern about substance abuse in this pediatric population, and only 2% felt that medical marijuana was never appropriate for children with cancer. But the study noted significant concern over the dearth and quality of research about the safety and efficacy of this treatment modality. Dr. Michelson noted “In addition to unclear dosage guidelines, the lack of high quality scientific data that medical marijuana benefits outweigh possible harm is a huge concern for providers accustomed to evidence-based practice.”

Read a news story about the study findings.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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