Purpose of study: To explore the experiences, patient interactions and knowledge regarding the use of cannabis as a medicine in New Zealand doctors in an oncology setting.
Study design: An observational cross-sectional survey undertaken between November 2019 and January 2020 across four secondary-care hospital oncology departments within New Zealand (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin). Participants were a convenience sample of doctors; consultants, registrars, medical officers of special status and house surgeons working in oncology departments. Of 53 individuals approached, 45 participated (85% Response Rate). The primary outcome was reporteddoctor-patient interactions. Secondary outcomes included knowledge of cannabis-based products, their efficacy, prescribing regulations and educational access.
Results: Of 44 doctors, 37 (84%, 95% CI: 70 to 93) reported patient requests to prescribe cannabis-based products and 43 (98%, 95% CI: 88 to 100) reported patients using illicit cannabis for medical symptoms. Primary request reasons were pain, nausea/vomiting and cancer treatment. 33/45 (73%, 95% CI: 58 to 85) cited knowledge of at least one cannabis-based product and 27/45 (60%, 95% CI: 44 to 74) indicated at least one condition that had evidence of efficacy. 36/44 (82%, 95% CI: 67 to 92) expressed future prescribing concerns but all were willing to use a cannabis-based product developed with traditional medical provenance.
Conclusion: In the oncology setting, patients are asking doctors about symptomatic and curative treatment with cannabis-based products. Doctors are not biased against the use of products showing medical provenance; however, NZ-specific clinical and regulatory guidelines are essential to support patient discussions and appropriate prescribing.
Keywords: Oncology; chemotherapy; complementary medicine; education & training (see medical education & training); pain management.
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