Medical Marijuana: The Imperative of Educating Physicians

Michael Schatman, PhD

Disclosures

September 06, 2013

Legitimate Medicine vs Recreational Legitimacy

The ethical issues associated with access to medical marijuana for legitimate patients as opposed to those wishing to gain "medical legitimacy" to use the drug recreationally is beyond the scope of this brief article. What will be emphasized is the concern that more physicians would be willing to take the perceived risk of authorizing medical marijuana for legitimate patients if they were better educated about the potential benefits of the medication and understood that their personal risk to their ability to prescribe controlled substances, should they choose to authorize medical marijuana in a manner consistent with their state laws, is essentially nonexistent. No physician in the United States has ever been successfully prosecuted or subjected to regulatory sanction for authorizing medical marijuana in a manner consistent with his or her state laws -- irrespective of attempts to do so, primarily during the Clinton administration.[13]

Physicians continue to be reluctant -- in part as a result of the increased legal and regulatory sanctions against physicians prescribing opioid analgesics -- to authorize medical marijuana for patients with chronic pain. However, the literature indicates that very few physicians who prescribe opioids responsibly ever have to deal with legal and regulatory sanctions against them.[14] Similarly, physicians who legitimately authorize use of medical marijuana in a manner consistent with their state laws have very little, if anything, to fear.

In the recent study by Kondrad and Reid,[8] even physicians who felt uncomfortable about authorizing medical marijuana to their patients clearly recognized the need for training in the use of the drug. Yet, until they begin to avail themselves of such training -- whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis -- physicians will continue to fear the unknown. This type of ignorance will benefit neither physicians nor the patients whom they treat, because it simply perpetuates the inadequate treatment of chronic pain in a system in which viable treatment options are becoming progressively more scarce.

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