Medical Schools Aren't Teaching Their Students About Cannabis, Survey Finds
Most medical students have already been asked about marijuana by patients, but the majority of them feel that their lack of cannabis education leaves them unprepared to discuss this medicine.
Published on February 21, 2020

Students at a leading US medical school said that they are not receiving formal training about medical cannabis, according to a new study published in Complementary Theories in Medicine.

Researchers administered an online survey to students attending George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC. The survey asked a number of questions regarding whether or not medical students had received any education on the benefits or risks of cannabis, and if they felt prepared to use this knowledge in their medical practice. A total of 105 students responded to the survey, 37 percent of whom were first-year students. Students in their second through fourth years accounted for about 20 percent of respondents each.

Roughly 60 percent of respondents said that they had received absolutely no formal cannabis education. Only two participants said that the school had covered “a sufficient amount” of marijuana knowledge. The majority of students (55.2 percent) said that they had already encountered a patient who had asked them about medical marijuana. But due to their lack of cannabis education, 57.1 percent of future doctors said they were “not at all prepared” to discuss the benefits of medical marijuana, and 54.1 percent felt unprepared to discuss potential risks.

The survey also asked medical students whether they thought their school should offer more formal cannabis education. Over 77 percent of all respondents said that they either agreed or strongly agreed with this proposition. The study authors note that the lack of formal medical cannabis education at GWU is “striking,” given the fact that medical marijuana has been legal in DC since 2010 and private adult-use became legal in 2015.

“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 survey has a number of serious limitations, as only one specific medical school was surveyed, and only about 12 percent of the school's students responded to the survey. However, other research indicates that these results are likely accurate. A nationwide study conducted in 2017 found that nearly 90 percent of medical school graduates felt unprepared to recommend medical marijuana to patients. 

A more recent study found that although 73 percent of oncologists believed cannabis could help fight cancer, 53 percent said they felt uncomfortable recommending cannabis due to lack of education.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states, but most medical schools still fail to offer education about the benefits of this increasingly popular medicine. A number of colleges, including Northern Michigan University and Colorado State University, now offer courses on cannabis biology and chemistry, but medical marijuana programs for doctors are few and far between. So far, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is the only US institution to offer a medical marijuana master's program.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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