Physicians are rarely exposed to the benefits and risks of medical marijuana as med schools typically do not cover it.
Medical marijuana is already legal in 29 states with more expected to come online. Despite this, med schools have been slow to adopt medical marijuana into their curriculum.
A new study by the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence focusing on med schools examined the issue. Administrators from 101 medical schools were asked about medical marijuana and their own curriculum. With estimates indicating that several million patients are already enrolled in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs, the news is shocking.
“Medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation,” said senior study author Dr. Laura Jean Bierut, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Physicians in training need to know the benefits and drawbacks associated with medical marijuana so they know when or if, and to whom, to prescribe the drug.”
The study found that over two-thirds of high-level administrators at med schools said graduates were not prepared to prescribe medical marijuana. One-quarter said their graduates could not even answer questions on medical marijuana.
Medical residents were also included in the survey and the results were no more encouraging. Approximately 90 percent said they were not ready to prescribe medical marijuana and 85 percent reported having never received any education on the topic.
Data from the Association of Medical Colleges database found that only 9 percent of med schools even touched on the subject.
“As a future physician, it worries me,” said study author Anastasia Evanoff, a third-year medical student.
Evanoff compared opioid training with marijuana and how med schools have updated the curriculum to reflect the growing prescription abuse crisis.
“We talk about how those drugs 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,” she said.
The comparison is interesting as calls for marijuana to be used as an alternative to opioid-based medications are growing. This week, physician and television star Dr. Oz came out in support of medical marijuana and said: “It may be the exit drug to get us out of the narcotic epidemic.”