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December 19, 2017

Survey: Most pediatric oncology docs back medical marijuana for children with cancer

Flickr user Brett Levin Photography Marijuana plants.

An overwhelming majority of healthcare workers who treat children with cancer approve of using medical marijuana to ease their symptoms — although those eligible to provide it offered a more tepid thumbs up, a new survey found.

The survey, co-authored by Yale Cancer Center researchers, found nine in 10 pediatric oncology providers were willing to help children with cancer access medical marijuana, especially for end-of-life treatment, compared with 85 percent of providers who were legally eligible to certify marijuana use.

Nearly a third said patients or their families had asked for medical marijuana at least once in the past month.

“Medical marijuana may be problematic, especially in children, with its potential for habit formation and its possible effects on the developing brain,” said Dr. Prasanna Ananth, a pediatric oncologist at Yale and lead author of the study. “And yet these children are facing life-threatening illness and suffering from unrelieved symptoms, and we want to optimize our ability to care for them.”

Researchers sent electronic surveys to doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and others at three well-known pediatric cancer centers: Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Of 288 who responded, 93 percent agreed more studies are needed on whether marijuana can help relieve symptoms like nausea or pain in children.

But there are obstacles to further research, Ananth said, with lack of a standardized product being chief among them. Since marijuana is a controlled substance, obtaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance for clinical trials is also unlikely, she said.

The FDA has approved dronabinol, a synthetic form of marijuana, to help with nausea and vomiting in children with cancer, but families often say it’s less effective than marijuana, which contains other chemical components, Ananth said.

The study was published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

Natalie Missakian can be reached at

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