An expert discusses the most common reasons his patients ask him about medical marijuana.
Patients with cancer may seek medical marijuana for multiple reasons. In his practice, Dr. Ali J. Zarrabi, a physician at the Winship Cancer Institute and assistant professor in the Emory University School of Medicine, said in an interview with CURE® that patients often want to try cannabis to treat symptoms of cancer treatment, as well as a way to feel more in control of their treatment.
Where legal, cannabis could be promising in providing this symptomatic relief. However, patients should not assume that marijuana can actually treat their disease, as there is currently no solid evidence indicating that it can treat cancer. When patients bring this up, Zarrabi uses the opportunity to open up a broader discussion about patient values and goals of care.
So the most common question I get in my clinic is, ‘I'm on a lot of medicines. I'm on four different nausea pills. I'm on two different sleeping pills. I'm on opioids. I'm on whatever opioid it is – oxycodone, oxycontin, fentanyl, methadone, etc. And my friend, my family member, sometimes my oncologist suggested that I try cannabis to potentially treat many of the symptoms and distress from my disease.’
And oftentimes, it's cancer patients really at any stage who wish to reduce the number of medications that they're on, who wish to try something different. Some of my patients are really frustrated with standard pharmaceutical drugs. And they wish to have a greater sense of control over how they dose their own medications – and that's the most common reason why patients come to our practice with questions regarding cannabis.
Also, a minority of my patients, through a variety of channels might have heard that it could treat the cancer itself as a kind of chemo therapeutic. And it's really for – we interpret that as a statement of faith that, you know, this is a life and death kind of situation for me, why not try something that might help me. And in those situations, we are frank with the evidence that there is no clinical data, that it does help extend the lives of people living with cancer, it's not a cancer treatment, per se. And we find that question and opportunity to really explore hopes, goals, values, by way of that question about cannabis, as a potential treatment for their illness.
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