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Seven reasons why physicians should understand the science of marijuana

April 21, 2017

Patients are seeking direction, guidance and recommendations concerning marijuana. With Ohio’s new law and growing acceptance of the plant, physicians must be ready to respond with well-reasoned, scientifically sound answers, many of which are not yet taught in medical school. Education is the key.

1.) The compounds in cannabis act upon the endocannabinoid system, a physiologic system integral to health and healing. “Modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans...”  (Source: Pacher, Pál, and George Kunos. "Modulating the endocannabinoid system in humanhealth and disease–successes and failures." FEBS Journal. 280.9 (2013): 1918-1943.)

 

2.) Cannabis is safe. “…the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications. (Source: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.)   

    

Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” A direct quote from DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young.  (Source: Marijuana Rescheduling Petition 1988. Schaffer Drug Library.)

 

3.) Marijuana is an exit from, not gateway to opioid addiction. “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” (Source:  National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.)

 

Recent studies have shown that medical cannabis users are able to replace more harmful substances, including prescription opioids and benzodiazepines, alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.  (Source:  Lucas, P.,  & Walsh, Z.  (2017). Medical cannabis access, use, and substitution for prescription opioids and other substances: A survey of authorized medical cannabis patients. International Journal of Drug Policy, 42, 30-35)

 

4.) Recommending cannabis as a medicine is legal in Ohio. Under the guidelines of the new Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, physicians certified by the Ohio Medical Board may recommend marijuana as a medicine to patients.  (Source: Ohio Sub. H. B. No. 523, 131st G.A; Sec. 3796.08)

 

Federal case law in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals supports the right of physicians to discuss the pros and cons of medical cannabis with their patients, and issue a written or oral recommendation to use cannabis within a bona fide doctor-patient relationship without fear of legal reprisal. (Source: Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629, 647 (9th Cir. 2002)

 

5.) Ohioans support medical marijuana. Public opinion polls taken over the last 20 years have shown support among Ohio voters reaching 90%. As many as 188,000 patients are forecast to register for Ohio’s new medical marijuana program. (Sources: Quinnipiac University, May 11, 2016 & Johnson, Alan. Columbus Dispatch, December 16, 2016)

 

6.) Medical practitioners are essential to guiding patients. Because cannabis is quickly evolving as a treatment and because physicians remain largely uneducated in the subject, patients often defer to dispensary staff for recommendations concerning plant strains, delivery systems and dosing levels, based mostly on the experiences of other patients. One study found that 94% of dispensary staff provide specific cannabis advice to patients, while only 20% reported medical/scientific training.  (Source:  Haug, Nancy A., et al.  “Training and Practices of Cannabis Dispensary Staff.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 1.1 (2016): 244-251)  

 

7.) Physicians want continuing medical education. “[Physicians] have strong desire for educational opportunities about medical marijuana at all levels of medical education. At this time there is little CME about medical marijuana available in the United States… CME resources should be developed in the near future, given the number of states where medical marijuana has been legalized and the consequent large number of physicians that potentially will be asked to provide medical certification for their patients.” (Source: Kondrad, Elin, and Reid, Alfred. “Colorado Family Physicians’ Attitudes Toward Medical Marijuana.” J Am Board Fam Med (2013); 26:52–60)

 

Please see a printable PDF version of these "7 Reasons" HERE.

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