Current Gaps in Medical Cannabis Data

Although the medical cannabis industry continues to expand across the United States, the continued lack of cohesive data on the use of medical cannabis continues to cause apprehension from doctors and physicians when recommending medical cannabis.

As medical cannabis legislation becomes more widely-accepted across the US, doctors and physicians charged with recommending a patient’s treatment with cannabis are struggling to keep up with the rate state programs are developing. Medical cannabis programs, developed by state legislators, lay out specific conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana access, and leave the responsibility of actually recommending or prescribing medical cannabis to a physician.  

Most often, patients seeking treatment with medical cannabis turn to their physician first for advice as well as to seek out any potential adverse effects, especially when treating conditions with pharmaceuticals as well as cannabis. The current lack of available information – both scientific and anecdotal – on medical cannabis is concerning to many physicians broached with these questions.  Each person’s body reacts differently when consuming medical marijuana, and even more so based on strain, method of consumption, and cannabinoid content. From what current research is available to physicians, these specifics are rarely mentioned, leaving many doctors to question the level of both safety and effectiveness medical marijuana offers their patients.

Limited Data

A significant reason for this information gap and physician apprehension can be directly attributed to the US federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, which puts it in the same category as heroin. Because of this, access to medical marijuana for research purposes, as well as to patients, is severely limited. Although clinical trials continue to raise awareness of the possibility for the use of medical marijuana to treat specific conditions, the lack of scale and conclusiveness pose problems for physicians interested in recommending medical marijuana. The lack of scientific research has also prevented the study of medical cannabis as a treatment for numerous conditions from becoming a standard part of any medical school’s curriculum.

Physicians and Medical Cannabis

Because patient care is of the utmost importance to doctors and physicians, they continue to seek out what information is available regarding medical cannabis and attempt to apply it to their patient’s needs. Many states’ medical cannabis legislation requires recommending physicians to first complete a continuing medical education credit (CME) on the topic of medical cannabis. CME courses, due to the lack of comprehensive research, are generally broad and lack the pertinent information needed to have intelligent and constructive conversations with patients.

Many recommending physicians seeking out information on medical cannabis are forced to extract information from other studies and apply that information to their patient’s condition. For instance, an oncologist that finds a lack of information on the treatment with medical cannabis for cancer might instead seek out information on the treatment of pain or appetite loss with medical cannabis. medical consultationSome physicians find comparable information in the clinical studies of pharmaceutical cannabinoids, such as Dronabinol. Made with a synthetic-form of THC, Dronabinol has been proven treat nausea for many cancer patients, as well as stimulate appetite for those suffering from AIDS. However, this practice of generalizing information due to a lack of research has become a struggle for many physicians.

As the legalization of cannabis continues to spread across the US and the world, the amount of data to be collected grows exponentially. However, the lack of collecting data and conducting comprehensive research on medical cannabis has remained a constant in the industry. Patients continue to go to their doctors with questions regarding medical cannabis, seeking out general information as well as the specifics of how medical cannabis might work for them and potential adverse effects.

As the conversations go on, doctors and physicians must be armed with qualitative and quantitative data to ensure they are providing the most knowledgeable and safe recommendations to patients.