Many people with cancer are interested in the possible benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in the cannabis plant, as a way to alleviate oft-cited symptoms such as uncontrolled pain, depression, and anxiety. But they may not be as educated about the effects as their healthcare providers would like them to be.

A group of researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, were interested in exploring oncology patients’ knowledge about and experiences with CBD. Their findings were published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

The team conducted a survey of 100 cancer patients, and they learned that family members and friends were the most common source of information about CBD (47%), followed by social media (36%), and television programs (31%). Only 13% of the participants said they learned about CBD from a healthcare provider.


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The researchers also learned that the most commonly perceived benefits of CBD were decreased pain, anxiety, and nausea, and 26% of the participants “reported uncertainty of the alleged benefits of using CBD.” Meanwhile, when asked about their understanding of the risks of CBD use, 45% of participants were unsure of any risks and 17% believed there were low or no risks. Some participants expressed uncertainty about drug interactions, the lack of FDA regulation, and unlabeled substances in products containing CBD.  

These results can provide some useful insights about patient’s perceptions about CBD benefits and risks to oncology nurses, which may prepare them to better discuss the issue with their patients. They can let patients know that the effects and risks of CBD over time remain unclear.

“Oncology nurses are well positioned to educate patients about the lack of evidence to support popular uses of CBD, possible contaminants, misleading advertising, and legal issues,” the researchers wrote.

Study limitations included its size (100 patients at a single center) and all the participants were patients at a supportive oncology care clinic, where more complex symptom management tends to occur. As a result, “absolute conclusions about the effects of CBD cannot be made,” the researchers wrote.

Reference

Butler TW, Hande KE, Ryan M, et al. Cannabidiol: knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of patients with cancer. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2021;25(4):405-412. doi:10.1188/21.cjon.405-412