Majority of providers support medical marijuana use in children with cancer
CHICAGO — More than 90% of pediatric oncology providers favored access to medical marijuana for children with cancer, according to results from a cross-sectional survey presented at the ASCO Annual Meeting.
Although widespread state legalization of medical marijuana has increased for children with serious illnesses, its use remains controversial in this setting.
Prasanna Janaki Ananth
“Providers see a role for medical marijuana in managing symptoms in children with cancer and are willing to help patients access it,” Prasanna Janaki Ananth, MD, MPH, pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, told HemOnc Today. “The laws are also changing rapidly, increasing access for patients. Yet, we do not have rigorous scientific evidence to help support medical marijuana use in children.”
Ananth and colleagues examined clinicians’ perspectives on the role of medical marijuana use in pediatric oncology patients.
The researchers sent an electronic cross-sectional survey about attitudes, practices, barriers and awareness of medical marijuana to providers at three NCI–designated cancer centers in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, where medical marijuana is legal.
The 301 respondents (median age, 35) included nurses (59%), physicians (29%) and physician-extenders (10%). Most participants were majority female (85%) and white (88%).
Overall, 92% of providers said they were willing to help pediatric cancer patients access medical marijuana, 90% revealed they would approve of oral medical marijuana formulations, and 92% would use it to manage symptoms in pediatric oncology patients.
In addition, 88% of providers felt medical marijuana would be appropriate for use in patients near the end of life, but only 34% favored its use for early-stage treatment.
Substance abuse did not appear to be a concern among 62% of providers surveyed.
Approximately one-third of providers received requests from patients or families for medical marijuana at least once in the previous month, in which 14% facilitated access to those requests.
The most common symptoms for medical marijuana requests included nausea, anorexia and pain; however, 46% of providers explained that standards for formulations, potency and dosing were the greatest barriers to providing medical marijuana.
Eighty-six percent of providers knew medical marijuana was legalized in their state, although only 58% knew state-specific regulations regarding access, possession and cultivation.
As a result, Ananth and colleagues recommended more education for providers to have increased knowledge and awareness of state and federal regulations concerning medical marijuana.
“Awareness of state and federal regulations can be improved, and clinical trials are needed to better understand the benefits and side effects of medical marijuana in children with cancer,” Ananth said.
The researchers would also like to investigate the perspectives of pediatric patients and parents regarding medical marijuana use.
“Another next step is to design an early phase clinical trial that investigates particular formulations of medical marijuana in pediatric cancer patients,” Ananth added. – by Kristie L. Kahl
Reference: Ananth PJ, et al. Abstract 10581. Presented at: ASCO Annual Meeting; June 3-7, 2016; Chicago.
Disclosures: Ananth reports no relevant financial disclosures. One other researcher reports a consultant/advisory role with AstraZeneca.