The journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published new survey data, titled “Physicians’ Attitudes and Practices Regarding Cannabis and Recommending Medical Cannabis Use,” last month, ultimately finding that a majority of physicians report they don’t possess adequate knowledge to guide patients on potentially using medical cannabis.
Researchers affiliated with the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor conducted the survey, involving 244 participating physicians.
Physicians Still Need More Cannabis Education
The survey introduction notes that medical cannabis users tend not to trust or rely on healthcare providers for cannabis advice. In fact, previous research has shown many patients tend to avoid the conversation around medical cannabis with their healthcare providers entirely. Authors state that previous physician surveys have focused on “favorability toward medical cannabis.”
“The current study assesses how physicians interact with patients regarding cannabis in their day-to-day practice, and whether and how they address important topics such as use patterns and substituting cannabis for medications,” the authors write. They also predicted that surveyed physicians would generally perceive cannabis dispensary staff and caretakers as less competent in addressing the health needs of patients and would be unlikely to use their recommendations.
Physicians were selected from a university-affiliated health system to complete the anonymous online survey, meant to assess doctors’ experience in cannabis-related education, perceptions of their knowledge of medical cannabis and the content of cannabis-related discussions with patients. Researchers also examined physicians’ perceptions of medical cannabis dispensary staff, medical cannabis caregivers and their influence on patients.
The results found that 10% of physicians had ever signed a medical cannabis authorization form for their patients. Physicians who did discuss cannabis with patients tended to focus primarily on risks (63%) instead of dosage (6%) and harm reductions (25%).
Authors note that physicians also saw their influence on patients as “weak” compared to other information sources. Most respondents said they had “low knowledge and competence” when it comes to medical cannabis. However, consistent with their hypothesis, most physicians also had “generally unfavorable attitudes” toward medical cannabis dispensary staff and medical cannabis caregivers.
Cannabis Knowledge in the Medical Field: An Ongoing Issue
Ultimately, researchers concluded that physicians’ lack of knowledge was the most frequently cited reason for not making a medical cannabis recommendation. To remedy this issue, they suggest “greater integration” of medical cannabis into medicine, along with an increase in medical education “to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of medical cannabis.”
“Greater integration of medical cannabis knowledge is needed at all levels of medical and clinical education to address the potential harm to patients if they receive no guidance,” the authors state. “Continued research is needed to provide a strong scientific basis for developing treatment guidelines and standardized medical education for medical cannabis use.”
The results are consistent with previous research on medical cannabis and healthcare providers.
In 2022, a similar survey of 145 internal medicine residents from the Mount Sinai Morningside-West program found that most lacked training around medical cannabis use. Specifically, 93% of respondents said they lacked adequate knowledge about the overall effects of cannabis, 97% said they lacked sufficient knowledge regarding indications it could address, 83% said they didn’t know where to find pertinent information on the subject and 92% agreed that medical cannabis education should be included in their training.
The Catch-22 of Seeking Medical Cannabis Guidance
Given this trend, other studies have looked at how medical cannabis patients actually retrieve medical cannabis guidance. One recent study of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients found they most often used dispensary staff (38%) and friends (32%) for general information on cannabis for MS. The most-commonly reported source of medical guidance among patients who had used medical cannabis at some point in their lives was reported as “nobody or myself,” followed by a dispensary professional (21%). Just 12% relied on their physicians for information.
While this trend may clash with the beliefs of physicians, it reflects the gaps in medical education around medical cannabis use and treatments.
One 2020 survey found that less than one in five patients believed their primary caregivers were knowledgeable about cannabis-specific health issues. When patients don’t trust that physicians have the information they need, who are they supposed to turn to instead?
Authors ultimately put responsibility on the medical field, stating in the study’s conclusion, “Primary care providers need to be knowledgeable about cannabinoids to best support patient care,” adding that research should continue to address the potential benefits and harms of cannabis.