Why Are Physicians Hesitant To Recommend Medical Cannabis?

A study conducted by CBS earlier this year revealed that 88% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use, but what about physicians? Without support from physicians, we have seen legal markets stall and patients unable to receive access to medicine. Recently there has been an increase in research, reports, and anecdotal evidence that supports the healing properties of medical cannabis. So where do physicians stand?

According to a study from The New England Journal of Medicine, 76% of clinicians from 72 countries and 56 states and provinces in North America are in favor of cannabis for medicinal use. A total of 1,446 clinicians were surveyed. Pennsylvania ranks the highest out of all states surveyed with 96% of 107 surveyors in favor of medical cannabis. Good news for the advocates, patients, entrepreneurs, and investors waiting for the state’s rapidly developing market to come online. In Utah on the other hand, only 1% of 76 clinicians surveyed supported cannabis for medical use.

So why are certain states around the country experiencing little to no participation from doctors in legal markets? Outside of strict regulations and requirements implemented in certain states, many doctors contribute the lack of participation and support for medical cannabis to a lack of education on the subject. “The most surprising thing is that the endocannabinoid system has been described since the mid 1990’s and it still isn’t being taught in traditional educational platforms such as biology classes, college level courses, medical schools, residency programs, or traditional medical conferences.” Says Debra Kimless, MD, Medical Director at ForwardGro. “Once physicians and other health care providers become educated and understand that cannabinoids can be an important therapeutic tool for patients, then the schedule one status and that it is a federally illegal drug may become less important.”

Resulting from the lack of education there is still a negative stigma surrounding cannabis that prevents some professionals, and patients, from entering the industry. Kimless would agree, stating, “The biggest challenge is the stigma. Physicians and patients view medical cannabis as not a “real” medication and therefore it is not an option.”

Over the years several accredited courses have been created and are now available for medical professionals both physically, and online. Now, accredited courses are even available for medical professionals in a hyper local setting. For example, the course provided on the PA Medicinal Cannabis Education Tour, will educate Pennsylvania based physicians and medical professionals on cannabis as medicine and the endocannabinoid system, as well as specific rules and regulations to be aware of in Pennsylvania. With all this information out there, what are the best options for physicians across the country?  

“I recommend physicians and other health care clinicians join the Society for Cannabis Clinicians and take their 12 credit CME course.” Says Kimless. For National conferences Kimless recommends America for Safe Access, Patient’s Out of Time, and CannaMed. Kimless also recommend physicians read Handbook of Cannabis by Pertwee, Cannabis Pharmacy by Backes, and Smoke Signals by Lee.

The lack of traditional education on the cannabis plant, endocannabinoid system, and their impact on the human body, has prevented many patients from experiencing relief. “I believe that using cannabis as a medical tool is one of the most rewarding treatment methods to date.” Says Kimless. “The benefits can range from giving patients hope to actual cure, and the risks are much less than any conventional therapeutic medicine-either prescription or over the counter.”

For Philadelphia based physicians and medical professionals, Greenhouse Ventures and Thomas Jefferson University, will be hosting an accredited course to educate health care professionals regarding the basic science underlying the pharmacologic and therapeutic options associated with medical cannabis in patient care, and provide clinical insights on the use of medicinal cannabis in practice. The first event will take place Tuesday, July 25th starting at 5:30pm at Bluemle Life Sciences Building at Thomas Jefferson University. Can’t make it to Philadelphia? Visit website for a full list of dates and venues, further course information, and ticket price for the PA Medicinal Cannabis Education Tour.

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