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Thanks to Prohibition, Some Doctors are Completely in the Dark about Medical Cannabis

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According to a recent report from Kaiser Health News (KHN), some doctors with practices in medical cannabis states are still unsure about how to recommend the plant medicine to their patients as a therapeutic alternative to potentially harmful painkillers. It is a good sign that some doctors take the initiative to educate themselves about the plant. Thanks to the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, necessary research is either highly regulated or completely nonexistent. Because of this, the report states, far too many medical professionals remain “completely in the dark” about how to discuss cannabis with their patients.

Dr. Jean Antonucci is a family practitioner in Maine, a state where medical cannabis has been legal for 17 years. Dr. Antonucci recently told Kaiser Health News (KHN) that she has very little knowledge about how to recommend marijuana to her patients. She says that she and other doctors don’t know what would be an appropriate dosage or how patients should consume the cannabis. Should they smoke it, eat it, or use a vaporizer? Dosage and strength of other prescribed medication can be easily determined, but that body of research – integral for any therapeutic treatment – does not exist for cannabis within the medical establishment.

Thankfully, there are medical professionals who are taking it upon themselves to better understand cannabis medicine. The New York state Health Department introduced a low-cost medical marijuana certification program last year that is part of the registration process physicians must go through to recommend cannabis. An estimated 656 physicians have completed the four-hour course and the other required steps.

If the course in New York is successful, similar programs can be implemented in other states. It is a good sign that physicians are open to these programs. A 2013 study conducted in Colorado showed that more than 80 percent of doctors thought that cannabis education and training was needed. Due to the lack of research, doctors have very little to go off of as far as the complexity of how cannabis affects the body.

Stephen Corn is an associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Harvard Medical School. He and his colleagues echo this sentiment.

“You need a multi-hour course to learn where the medical cannabis works within the body,” Corn told PBS News Hour. “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?”

Corn went on to explain that while he was pleased that medical marijuana certification programs are successful in New York, many doctors in other medical states are still afraid of the legal risks associated with prohibition.