Medical Marijuana

Nearly three in four licensed health care professionals in Washington state endorse the use of medical cannabis as a substitute for opioids in patients with chronic pain, according to survey data published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Researchers with the University of Washington School of Nursing surveyed a random sampling of actively licensed health care professionals legally permitted to provide medical cannabis authorizations in the state of Washington. 

Of eligible respondents, 72 percent agreed with the statement, “Medical marijuana should be used to reduce the use of opioids for non-cancer pain.” Several studies – such as those here, here, and here – report that pain patients enrolled in state-sponsored cannabis access programs reduce or eliminate their use of opioid pain relievers over time.

Sixty-three percent of respondents also agreed, “The DEA should reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer a schedule I [prohibited] drug [under federal law]” – a finding that is consistent with that of prior surveys of health practitioners.

Commenting on the findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These opinions are consistent with those of other medical professionals throughout the United States, most of whom possess attitudes toward cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy that are incongruent with the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position that marijuana is a substance without any accepted medical value.”

Over 80 percent of respondents expressed interest in receiving additional medical training with respect to cannabis – an opinion that is also consistent with prior surveys. Among those who had never provided a medical cannabis authorization, more than half (58 percent) reported that “they did not feel they had the knowledge” to do so. Respondents reported that they were likely to “rely most on other health care professionals” when obtaining information of medical cannabis. According to data published earlier this year in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, most medical students report receiving no formal education about the therapeutic use of cannabis during their time as undergraduates.

The survey’s authors concluded: “Patients expect their clinician to provide information on the effects, risks, and benefits of cannabis. Health care professionals must be prepared to meet their expectations and to do so within the letter of the law. Now more than ever, a rational approach to medical cannabis is needed to assure that unforeseen consequences are mitigated while responsibly promoting the use of cannabis for medically appropriate symptoms and conditions.”

The abstract of the study, “Knowledge, practices, and attitudes of Washington health care professionals regarding medical cannabis,” appears online here.