Marijuana as an antiemetic drug: how useful is it today? Opinions from clinical oncologists

J Addict Dis. 1994;13(1):53-65. doi: 10.1300/J069v13n01_05.


Objective: To determine the antiemetic drug preferences of practicing adult oncologists and to estimate the frequency of use of marijuana smoke as an antiemetic agent.

Design: Identical mailed questionnaire surveys on antiemetic preferences, distributed prior to approval of ondansetron.

Sample: Two groups of practicing clinical adult oncologists were surveyed. The first group (N = 120) consisted of every twentieth board-certified, American member of the American Society of Clinic Oncology culled from the 1990 ASCO membership directory in alphabetical order. The second group (N = 60) consisted of every adult clinical oncologist in metropolitan Washington, D.C.

Measurements/results: Completed surveys were returned by 141 (78%) physicians; the responses from both groups were almost identical (Wilcoxon Rank Sum Test). Marijuana (either as marijuana smoke or oral tetrahydrocannabinol) ranked ninth in order of preference for the treatment of mild to moderate nausea and vomiting, and sixth for the treatment of more severe symptoms induced by chemotherapy. Most (94 or 65%) respondents reported having prescribed marijuana or oral THC 10 times or less; only 5 (3.5%) had prescribed such drugs more than 100 times which represented for them about 1% of their average lifetime clinical patient load. The respondents who had prescribed marijuana in any form thought that it had effectively relieved post-chemotherapy nausea or vomiting in 50% of patients. Unpleasant adverse effects were estimated to have occurred in 25% of treated patients. Only 8 (6%) respondents indicated that they would prescribe marijuana much more frequently--if there were no legal barriers associated with its medical use.

Conclusion: Marijuana in any form was believed to be efficacious for 50% of patients with pre- or post-chemotherapy nausea or vomiting. However, one of four patients who received it complained of bothersome adverse effects. At the time of the study, cannabis was prescribed or recommended relatively infrequently by American clinical oncologists (i.e., those who actually prescribed chemotherapy). Even if it was freely available and restrictions on its use liberalized, smokeable marijuana, according to responses given on this survey, would not be used much more frequently by American oncologists.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Antiemetics / adverse effects
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Approval
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / adverse effects
  • Nausea / chemically induced
  • Nausea / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Patient Care Team
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vomiting / chemically induced
  • Vomiting / drug therapy*


  • Antiemetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Dronabinol