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Cancer research: Cannabis access for cancer patients

Breaking down barriers to cancer care: New study reveals disparities in access to cannabis for symptom management

A groundbreaking new study led by a researcher at the University at Buffalo has uncovered shocking disparities in access to cannabis for cancer patients seeking relief from the pain, anxiety, and sleep disruption that often accompany treatment. The study, which is one of the first to explore the issue, found that race and income were both key factors in determining who had access to cannabis, where they got it from, and in what form.

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According to the study's first author, Rebecca Ashare, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, these findings are yet another example of how systemic factors such as racism and income inequality are impacting the health outcomes of patients with cancer. "Given racial disparities in both cancer pain management and symptom burden suggested in previous research, it will be essential to identify possible barriers to access if we're to avoid widening these already existing health disparities in cancer care," she said.

The anonymous survey, which was conducted over a five-month period in 2021, focused on cancer patients over the age of 18 at a large NCI designated cancer center in Pennsylvania. Although nearly 43% of the randomly selected 352 participants received medical certification for cannabis, those who identified as Black/African American were significantly less likely to be certified compared to white participants, and were also more likely to report using cannabis in forms associated with adverse health outcomes, such as varieties intended to be smoked or vaporized.

The study's findings suggest that systemic factors such as racism and income inequality are not only impacting access to cannabis for cancer patients, but also widening existing health disparities in cancer care. As Ashare emphasized, "This is not about choice; this is not about blaming patients; this is not about telling people to stop smoking cannabis. This is about highlighting systemic factors that make it difficult—if not impossible—for the people who may need it the most to have access to safer options to manage their cancer-related symptoms."

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