Cannabis consumption has become mainstream. Now is the time for clinicians to be educated on the endocannabinoid system and the therapeutic use of cannabis.
Meredith Fisher-Corn, M.D.
Nearly 35 million U.S. adults consume cannabis on a regular basis, according to a 2017 survey, and the population of recreational cannabis consumers has skyrocketed since then, as more and more states have enacted adult-use cannabis legislation.
The medical cannabis market has expanded, too. By June 2021, approximately 3.6 million patients were enrolled in U.S. state medical cannabis programs, and the number of enrollees has been increasing by the thousands on a weekly basis in some states.
In addition, in September 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB311 (aka “Ryan’s Law”), “requiring that hospitals and healthcare facilities allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis instead of opiates for pain relief.”
Despite burgeoning cannabis use across the country, the curricula in medical, pharmacy, and nursing schools have not changed sufficiently to meet the healthcare needs of medical cannabis patients, nor recreational cannabis consumers. According to a recent study that assessed the preparedness of physicians-in-training to recommend medical cannabis, “the vast majority of residents and fellows (89.5 percent) felt not at all prepared to [recommend] medical marijuana, while 35.3 percent felt not at all prepared to answer questions, and 84.9 percent reported receiving no education in medical school or residency on medical marijuana.”
According to that same survey, only 9 percent of U.S. medical schools’ curricula include information on the endocannabinoid system and/or medical cannabis. Articles published in nursing and pharmacy journals end with similar conclusions: Clinicians need cannabis education so they can best serve their patients, and help them obtain the potential benefits of cannabinoid-based products and minimize the adverse consequences.
To date, only a few of the more than 30 states where medical cannabis is legal require recommending clinicians to enroll in continuing medical education (CME/CE) courses focused on the endocannabinoid system and medical cannabis, and no cannabis-legal state requires all clinicians to enroll in a cannabis/endocannabinoid system course.
As a result, there is an enormous educational gap; most doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and psychologists, are not prepared to manage the healthcare of cannabis consumers, or even address their patients’ cannabis questions.
Knowledge is power
As editor-in-chief of TheAnswerPage.com, a medical education resource that provides accredited CME/CE education for the healthcare community and the community-at-large, I have addressed this educational gap. I have created comprehensive courses on the endocannabinoid system and medical cannabis that address many aspects of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids, including administration, drug interactions, and the health effects of cannabinoids in various patient populations.
One of our courses, “CBD in Clinical Care,” provides information that assists clinicians in effectively treating and counseling CBD consumers; the physiological effects of CBD, CBD’s side effects, and the conditions for which CBD has been shown by evidence-based clinical studies to be efficacious are discussed in detail.
TheAnswerPage also has tailored cannabis courses for multiple U.S. Departments of Health and State Medical Societies. We also provide free daily “Answer of the Day” emails that address topics such as cannabis and sexual health, topicals, edibles, drug interactions, drug metabolism, and cannabinoid-based therapeutics for various health conditions.
All of the education provided in the accredited courses and “The Answer of the Day” is based on current pre-clinical and clinical studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
Reading through the medical journals, I have noticed a recurring theme: healthcare providers and patients need to improve communication about cannabis use. Whether or not a clinician approves of cannabis consumption is irrelevant. Patients who consume cannabis (for medicinal or recreational purposes) need and deserve well-informed guidance from their healthcare providers.