Many doctors in States that have legalized medical marijuana are twitchy about prescribing pot to their patients for fear of retribution.
However, an issue that is raising growing concern is that many of the doctors who do prescribe medical marijuana have dubious track-records.
Certification requirements that are needed to qualify to prescribe medical cannabis are somewhat slip-shod and it is thought to be fueling the problem. In New York, for example, where the medical marijuana program is regarded as conservative, doctors only have to undergo six hours of cannabis education to qualify to recommend medical variants of the plant.
Do pot doctors have shady records?
According to an investigation that was recently conducted by a Tampa Bay newspaper, doctors in Florida who legally prescribe medical pot were found to be more likely to have been previously arrested, disciplined or have had their licenses revoked in other States.
But, it’s the fear of retribution that is acting as a dampener for more doctors to agree to recommend medical marijuana. The benefits simply do not outweigh the risks, albeit theoretical, says Dr Jason Pirozzolo, the co-founder of the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association. He described the current situation, in which medical pot may be legal in certain States but is still outlawed by the federal government nationwide, as the “Wild West”. Doctors live in fear of being blacklisted from federal programs and professional opportunities.
A Santa Monica doctor, Allan Frankel, says many members of the medical profession in California are afraid to prescribe medical cannabis because of possible sanctions from their medical boards. He points to the 2006 decision by the Ninth Circuit Board that ruled that while doctors could recommend cannabis to their patients in States where it is legal, they could not prescribe the medication, nor give patients detailed treatment information.
Legal ruling paralyzes doctors
Dr Frankel says this ruling effectively paralyzes members of the medical profession from giving their patients advice on treatments and violated the core-ethics of doctor-patient relationships.
Dr Perry Solomon, a chief medical officer, says many medical practitioners feel that there is a stigma attached to doctors who prescribe cannabis. He says they fear being labeled as “cowboys” by their fellow-practitioners.
Another problem, says Dr Solomon, is that many doctors are pressured for time and find the training courses required in some states too onerous to handle. Many doctors also felt that these training courses provided scant information about medical marijuana that while non-lethal, is nevertheless an extremely complicated medical treatment.
Skype “At HelloMD”
Dr Solomon is associated with At HelloMD, a Skype platform on which doctors can conduct medical marijuana consultations. Doctors who include psychiatrists and oncologists and who are either retired or looking for additional income operate on the At HelloMD platform after undergoing background checks to clear them of possible licensing or other medical-related issues.
New Jersey is taking the lead
There are State programs, however, that recognize the need for doctors to be able to guide and advise their patients about marijuana treatments. New Jersey is one of those States. There are only 622 of New Jersey’s 28,000 licensed doctors who are certified to recommend marijuana treatments, but the state health commissioner,Dr ShereefElnahal, wants to change that around,
He is actively encouraging physicians and medical students to educate themselves about cannabis and to learn how to use the plant in their practices. Dr Elnahal does not regard marijuana as an alternative medication and wants to see it integrated into the medical practitioner’s daily course of recommended medicine.
He firmly believes that marijuana is often the best therapy available to a patient.
There can be no doubt that sufficient education about medical marijuana is sorely lacking. Most importantly, the failure to teach medical students about the association between the body’s natural endocannabinoid system and the cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant is an issue that must be seriously addressed.