Cannabis for Cancer Symptoms: Perceived or Real Benefit?

Megan Brooks

July 03, 2023


Adults receiving cancer treatment who use cannabis perceived benefits regarding pain, sleep, nausea, and other factors but also reported worse physical and psychological symptoms.


  • Participants included 267 adults (mean age, 58; 70% women; 88% White) undergoing treatment for cancer, most commonly breast (47%) and ovarian (29%).

  • Participants completed online surveys to characterize cannabis use, reasons for using it, perceived benefits and harms, and physical/psychological symptoms.

  • Participants who had used cannabis for more than 1 day during the previous 30 days were compared with those who had not.


  • Overall, 26% of respondents reported cannabis use in the past 30 days, most often edibles (65%) or smoked cannabis (51%).

  • Cannabis users were more likely to be younger, male, Black, to have lower income, worse physical/psychological symptoms, and to be disabled or unable to work in comparison with nonusers.

  • Cannabis was used to treat pain, cancer, sleep problems, anxiety, nausea, and poor appetite; perceived benefits were greatest with respect to sleep, nausea, pain, muscle spasms, and anxiety.

  • Despite perceived benefits, cannabis users reported worse overall distress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, appetite, nausea, fatigue, and pain.


"The study findings indicate that patients with cancer perceived benefits to using cannabis for many symptoms" but also revealed that "those who used cannabis in the past 30 days had significantly worse symptom profiles overall than those who did not use cannabis," the authors write.


The study, led by Desiree R. Azizoddin, PsyD, University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, Oklahoma City, was published online June 24 in Cancer.


It's not known whether adults who used cannabis had significantly worse symptoms at the outset, which may have prompted cannabis use, or whether cannabis use may have exacerbated their symptoms.


Funding for the study was provided by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. Nine of the 10 authors have disclosed no relevant conflicts of interest. One author has relationships with various pharmaceutical companies involved in oncology.

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