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Addiction

Updated 27 September 2017

9 out of 10 US docs ill-prepared to prescribe dagga

The dagga debate has been going strong since SA legalised dagga for private use. But what do doctors know about the medicinal use of marijuana?

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Since it has been ruled that South Africans are now allowed to grow their own dagga, there have been several debates on the safety of its usage. 

In South Africa, doctors also seem quite willing to talk about the medical use of dagga.

But not so much in the US, it seems. Although it's becoming more commonplace, medical marijuana is rarely discussed in US medical schools, a new study shows.

Medical education needs to 'catch up'

"Medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation," said senior author Dr Laura Jean Bierut, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"Physicians in training need to know the benefits and drawbacks associated with medical marijuana so they know when or if, and to whom, to prescribe the drug," she explained in a school news release.

Marijuana is now legal – at least for medical purposes – in more than half the states in the country, the researchers said.

Unprepared to prescribe medical marijuana

Curriculum deans at 101 medical schools completed surveys about marijuana education. Just over two-thirds said their graduates weren't prepared to prescribe medical marijuana. One-quarter said their graduates weren't even able to answer questions about medical marijuana.

The researchers also surveyed 258 medical residents and fellows from across the country. Nine out of 10 said they were unprepared to prescribe medical marijuana; 85% said they hadn't received any education about medical marijuana. This research was published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

A worrying outcome

A look at the Association of Medical Colleges database revealed that only 9% of medical schools taught their students about medical marijuana.

"As a future physician, it worries me," said study first author Anastasia Evanoff, a third-year medical student.

"We need to know how to answer questions about medical marijuana's risks and benefits, but there is a fundamental mismatch between state laws involving marijuana and the education physicians-in-training receive at medical schools throughout the country," Evanoff said.

She added that physicians are now getting better training on opioids.

"We talk about how those drugs can affect every organ system in the body, and we learn how to discuss the risks and benefits with patients," Evanoff said of opioids. "But if a patient were to ask about medical marijuana, most medical students wouldn't know what to say," she said.

Image credit: iStock