Patients with head and neck cancer report using medical marijuana, by smoking, eating, or vaporizing, to manage symptoms of pain, depression, weight, dysphagia, and sensory changes induced by radiotherapy, a study published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer has shown.1

Because the number of states that have legalized medical marijuana is growing while the use of medical marijuana in patients with head and neck cancer remains controversial, researchers sought to survey patients about their medical marijuana use for the management of long-term treatment-related morbidities.

For the study, researchers administered a questionnaire to 15 patients with head and neck cancer who reported using medical marijuana. Patients were all male, free of disease, and using medical marijuana currently to management the long-term adverse effects after curative treatment.

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Results showed that 12 of the 15 patients smoked marijuana, 4 ingested it, and 3 reported vaporizing. Researchers found that 80% of patients reported marijuana use prior to diagnosis and 40% currently or previously used marijuana to get high.

The study demonstrated that patients used medical marijuana to relieve pain, xerostomia, muscle spasms, dysphagia, and sticky saliva, improve depression, altered sense, and appetite, and maintain weight.

The authors note that further investigation of medical marijuana using a randomized, placebo-controlled trial would be useful to better evaluate the potential benefits in this population of patients with head and neck cancer.


1. Elliott DA, Nabavizadeh N, Romer JL, et al. Medical marijuana use in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients treated with radiotherapy [published online ahead of print March 23, 2016]. Supp Care Cancer. doi:10.1007/s00520-016-3180-8.