As the medical wonder du jour, cannabis’ healing properties are not going unseen by patients who are visiting doctors. While there is an increase in those asking their doctors for information about cannabis and using it for therapy or as a pain reliever, many doctors have not received adequate formal training about medical marijuana and its effects. Despite an obvious increase in growing public interest around medical marijuana and legal availability, formal education on cannabis throughout medical school and through a doctor’s residency in the United States is still limited.
In fact, according to a new study in Complementary Theories in Medicine last month, students from George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC reported that they are not receiving “no formal education about the therapeutic use of cannabis during their time as undergraduates”.
For this study, researchers provided 105 medical students at GWU with an online survey asking specific questions regarding whether or not they had received any education on the benefits, or pitfalls of using cannabis. The study also looked into if those same students felt prepared to use the knowledge, if any, in their future medical practices.
Thanks to a lack of essential cannabis education, it is estimated that nearly 57.1 percent of future doctors coming from GWU feel “not at all prepared” to field or discuss medical cannabis use to future patients, or to provide them with a full picture of therapeutic cannabis use. Further, only two respondents shared that the school had provided a “sufficient amount” of cannabis knowledge during their time at GWU. This is particularly interesting because DC is a state that has legalized cannabis since 2010, and passed legislation legalizing private adult-use in 2015.
Around seventy-seven percent of the 105 respondents agreed that “there should be more formal education on medical cannabis in medical school.” These numbers are staggering as other survey results show that many students, 55.2 percent, stated that they had already come across patients that had asked them about medical marijuana during the course of their treatment. And the kicker to all of this? The survey also asked the students if they believed that the school should offer more education and an astounding 77 percent of all respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this being offered.
“The perceived knowledge gap demonstrated by this survey indicates that US medical students could very well benefit from increased undergraduate medical cannabis education,” shared the survey administrators. “These participants overwhelmingly reported that they are not comfortable with their level of cannabis knowledge and would like to learn more while in medical school.”
The lack of education around medical cannabis use is not solely a problem of George Washington University – in fact, other studies, such as those here, here, here, and here, found the same conclusion: many health professionals receive inadequate education around medical marijuana.
While we recognize the limitations of the survey (small sample size, only one school was surveyed, etc.), we believe that this highlights a larger, systemic problem concerning cannabis and its role in our health. Cannabis, and medical marijuana to be specific, is legal in 33 states in the United States, yet most medical schools are lacking in medical marijuana training and education. In fact, other research shows that what the GWU survey provides is an accurate look at the state of cannabis education in medical schools. This 2017 nationwide study discovered that around 90 percent of medical school graduates felt unprepared to recommend medical marijuana to patients.
As we see cannabis becoming more widespread, and the study of the therapeutic benefits of this wonder plant coming to light, it’ll be more important than ever for the education system to catch up. As we already reported in a previous piece, Pharmacists are also struggling with being able to discuss the potential risks and benefits of cannabis and medical marijuana to their patients, due to insufficient training and a problem with how the overall system sees medical marijuana. This brings up problems with patients who are already using medical marijuana, as they are not being educated on the problems that can arise from mixing or using different pharmaceuticals with cannabis.
It’s important, not only to help change overall cannabis culture perspectives but also for the health and wellness of patients that doctors become more knowledgeable in this area. Cannabis safety is a large part of cannabis use, and as we develop more mainstream products, it’s key for us as users, and treating doctors to understand the potential benefits and risks of medical marijuana or CBD use.