A new study published in the online journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that “medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation.” While medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and Washington D.C. for various ailments, it appears that medical schools have not quite caught on to the trend.
“As a future physician, it worries me,” said the study’s first author Anastasia Evanoff, who is a third-year medical student. She continued, “We need to know how to answer questions about medical marijuana’s risks and benefits, but there is a fundamental mismatch between state laws involving marijuana and the education physicians-in-training receive at medical schools throughout the country.”
According to surveys completed by curriculum deans at 101 medical schools, over two-thirds of their graduates were not prepared to recommend/prescribe medical marijuana. Out of the same surveys, a quarter of graduates wouldn’t even be prepared to answer questions regarding medical marijuana.
Researchers also surveyed 258 medical residents and fellows from across the U.S. Out of all of them, 9 out of every 10 said they were unprepared to recommend or prescribe medical marijuana. A total of 85% said that they had not received any education about medical marijuana at all – yet since the recognition of the growing opiate epidemic, physicians and students have received better training on risk factors and benefits of opioids.
“We talk about how those drugs [opioids] can affect every organ system in the body, and we learn how to discuss the risks and benefits with patients, but if a patient were to ask about medical marijuana, most medical students wouldn’t know what to say,” Evanoff concluded.
Physicians – and especially medical students – need to be better educated on medical marijuana; things like it’s uses, potential benefits and risk factors. As it stands now, doctors must self-educate through the internet, attend one of few schools that teaches anything at all about the plant, or through other means. While in many states doctors must become certified to recommend medical marijuana, the education to receive that license is usually less than 20 hours – sometimes less than 10 – and would not be able to cover everything doctors need to know about medical cannabis.
When over half the country has laws allowing medical marijuana use, it stands to reason that the time has come for medical marijuana to become a part of medical school curriculum – especially during a time when there is more research coming to light suggesting that medical marijuana can help fight, and maybe even bring an end to, the opioid epidemic that is growing further and further out of control.