– A breakdown of Syed et al. 2023
In a recent research study, currently in pre-press, knowledge levels, attitudes and practices of physicians from 17 countries regarding the use of cannabis for medical purposes was surveyed and analyzed.
The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 323 physicians from across the world, between 2016 and 2018, using 28 questions to assess their domain-specific knowledge, willingness to recommend medical cannabis, and clinical experience with medical cannabis.
The study paints a vivid picture of the existing knowledge gaps among physicians concerning medical cannabis. Despite the growing acceptance and use of medical cannabis worldwide, many physicians remain uninformed or misinformed about its potential benefits and risks. The majority have never prescribed it, suggesting a prevailing uncertainty and potential for future shifts in medical practice. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive education and clear guidelines to ensure that physicians can provide evidence-based care to their patients.
Type of questions used in the survey:
- Demographics and Clinical Practice Characteristics: Questions related to the physicians’ age, gender, years of clinical experience, country of practice, etc.
- Disorder Specific Treatment Efficacy: Case-vignettes of different disorders were presented, and physicians were asked about their willingness to recommend medical cannabis for these conditions.
- Perceived Proficiency in Prescribing Medical Cannabis: Questions that gauged how proficient or confident the physicians felt in prescribing or recommending medical cannabis.
- Risks Associated with Medical Cannabis: Questions about the potential risks or downsides of cannabis use, possibly about the addictive potential or other health risks.
- Personal Belief/Preference of Medical Cannabis: The survey asked: “Hypothetically, if you had a condition that qualified for ‘medical marijuana,’ would you opt to get a prescription for yourself?” This question aimed to gauge the personal beliefs of physicians regarding medical cannabis.
- Knowledge About Addictive Potential: Physicians were asked about the probability of an individual developing addiction after prolonged daily use of cannabis.
- Motivations for Medical Cannabis: A question asking for the suspected driving motivations for medical cannabis use, whether it’s for medicinal purposes, political/economic motivations, or other reasons.
- Link Between Cannabis and Psychotic Symptoms: Physicians were asked if they believed there’s a connection between cannabis use and the onset of psychotic symptoms.
The results from the survey clearly showed that most physicians had limited knowledge and experience with medical cannabis. The majority have never prescribed it but remain open to the idea, highlighting the prevailing uncertainty and the potential for future shifts in medical practice.
Insights into physicians’ understanding of cannabis’s addictive potential, its link to psychosis, and personal beliefs about its utility reveal a mix of correct knowledge, misconceptions, and personal biases. Roughly half of physicians would desire to use medical cannabis for themselves, given they had a qualifying condition.
A diagnosis-based overview of physicians’ propensity to recommend medical cannabis illustrates a much higher willingness for conditions like severe nausea from chemotherapy and lesser willingness for conditions like insomnia.
Medical cannabis is a complex and controversial topic that has implications for public health, policy, and practice. As physicians are often the gatekeepers and prescribers of medical cannabis, it is essential that they have adequate knowledge and skills to make informed decisions based on the best available evidence. However, as this article shows, there is a lack of consistent and comprehensive education and training for physicians on this topic, resulting in knowledge gaps, misconceptions, and variable practices. This may compromise the quality and safety of patient care, as well as the credibility and trustworthiness of the medical profession.
Therefore, it is important to keep education science-based and up-to-date with the latest research and guidelines on medical cannabis. This requires collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, such as academic institutions, professional associations, regulatory bodies, and advocacy groups. It also requires addressing the barriers and challenges that hinder physician education and practice on medical cannabis, such as legal restrictions, stigma, ethical dilemmas, and resource constraints.
We humbly request policymakers to see beyond the decades old smokescreens of misinformation and unjust stigma that have clouded the scientific understanding and potential benefits of medical cannabis. We urge you to adopt a balanced and evidence-based approach to regulating and facilitating the use of medical cannabis for legitimate medical purposes. We also encourage you to support and fund more research on the efficacy, safety, and mechanisms of action of medical cannabis for various conditions. By doing so, we can improve patient outcomes, reduce suffering, and advance medical knowledge.
Stefan Broselid, Ph.D.
Editor-In-Chief, Aurea Care Medical Science Journal
Syed SA, Singh J, Elkholy H, et al. International perspective on physician knowledge, attitude and practices related to medical cannabis. Preprint. medRxiv. 2023;2023.07.26.23293157. Published 2023 Jul 27. doi:10.1101/2023.07.26.23293157