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Doctors Complain about Medical Marijuana Knowledge Gap

Maureen Meehan



medical marijuana, MMJ

CNN recently interviewed a physician in Maine who said she would like to counsel her patients on the use of medical marijuana but feels unprepared.

And Maine passed its Medical Marijuana Act in 1999.

Dr. Jean Antonucci told CNN that she still feels “completely in the dark” about whether marijuana is the right way to treat an ailment, what the dose should be and whether a patient should smoke it, eat it, apply it or vaporize it.

Most physicians have never been trained to deal with these issues, which are still not covered in medical schools.

“We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now,” Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University told Time. “Without these studies, we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Hopefully this situation will change as medical marijuana is finally being taken more seriously.

Some states are beginning to require doctors to take continuing medical education courses that detail how marijuana interacts with the nervous system and other medications, as well as its side effects.

Many researchers, those who believe MMJ is beneficial, as well as the skeptics, agree that the government’s stance hinders research.

“I understand the cautious nature of the government… but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” said Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Some states, like New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio are developing certification programs, which consist of four-hour courses required for doctors who choose to participate in their state’s medical marijuana programs.

Physicians appear to welcome the opportunity to learn more. According to a 2013 study in Colorado, more than 80 percent of family doctors thought physicians needed medical training before recommending marijuana.

But some advocates are concerned that doctors may find the required courses, as short as they are, to be burdensome and opt out, ultimately affecting patients’ access to relief, said Ellen Smith, a board member of the U.S. Pain Foundation, which supports expanded access to medical cannabis.

Education is essential, given the complexity of how marijuana interacts with the body and how little physicians know, said Stephen Corn, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School.

“You need a multi-hour course to learn where the medical cannabis works within the body,” Corn said. “As a patient, would you want a doctor blindly recommending something without knowing how it’s going to interact with your other medications What to expect from it? What not to expect?”