If you’ve ever tried talking to your doctor about marijuana, you’ll know that many medical professionals are still largely uneducated about the potential of medical cannabis.
But you’d expect medical schools to have picked up the pace of educating future generations of doctors by now. As it turns out, that’s not the case.
The majority of medical students at a leading US medical school say they are not receiving any formal training about the therapeutical uses of medical cannabis, according to the results of a study published in Complementary Theories in Medicine.
Researchers surveyed undergraduate medical students attending George Washington University in Washington, DC.
The anonymous survey asked a number of questions regarding the level of education on medical cannabis the students received, and their preparedness in counseling patients about the potential benefits and hazards of medical marijuana.
A worrying 60 percent of students said they had received no formal education at all regarding medical cannabis, while only 1.9% percent said their education about medical cannabis was “sufficient.”
At the same time, 77.2% of students either agreed or strongly agreed (46.7% and 30.5% respectively) that there “should be more formal education on medical cannabis in medical school classes.”
While the majority of students (55.2 %) said they had encountered a patient that asked them about medical marijuana, 57.1% felt they were “not at all prepared” to discuss the benefits of medical cannabis due to their lack of cannabis education.
An equally large number (54.1%) said they felt unprepared to discuss the potential risks of cannabis as a treatment option.
What’s encouraging though, is that over 77% of all future doctors participating in the survey said their school should offer more cannabis education. At the very least, this shows that the incoming generation of doctors is keeping an open mind about medical marijuana and is more than willing to learn about its potential benefits and risks.
A total of 105 students responded to the survey, 37.1% of which were first-year students, 20 % were second-year students, 21.9% were third-year students, and 21% were fourth-year medical students.
The study’s authors summarized that the apparent lack of medical marijuana education at GWU is “striking,” especially since medical marijuana has been legal in Washington, DC since 2010.
“The perceived knowledge gap demonstrated by this survey indicates that US medical students could very well benefit from increased undergraduate medical cannabis education,” the authors wrote.
“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 authors also pointed out a number of serious limitations of their study. For one, of the 845 medical students, the survey was sent to, only about 12% responded at all. On top of that, only the students of one specific medical school were surveyed.
This study, however, is not the first of its kind showing similar results. A nationwide study in 2017 among curriculum deans, residents, and fellows found that nearly 90 percent of medical school graduates were unprepared to recommend medical cannabis to patients.
A newer study from 2019, found that while 73% of oncologists believed in the potential of cannabis to help fight cancer, 53% were not comfortable recommending cannabis as a treatment option due to their lack of education on the matter.
While medical marijuana is legal in 33 US states by now, university programs specializing in medical cannabis are still a rarity.
To fill the void, a number of websites offering medically reviewed information for patients and practitioners have sprung up in recent years.
If you want your doctor to consider treating you with medical cannabis, your best bet might still be to lead the conversation down that path and present your medical professional with information about the potential of cannabis.