A recent study carried out by McMaster University shows that Ontario physicians are still reluctant to authorize medical cannabis even two decades after it was legalized in Canada.
And the reasons behind that reluctance range from concerns about damaging after-effects to a general lack of “proper guidance,” said Jason Busse, associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster.
Busse said medical cannabis is a therapeutic means “unlike” other treatments that are available for patient use because of the path it took to becoming accessible.
“It’s become available, not because we have compelling evidence to really understand its benefits and harms, but more through a series of legal challenges,” said Busse. “Now that it is available, clinicians are in an unusual position of having to play catch-up to a degree.”
Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001 and the number of Canadians using medical cannabis has grown “exponentially,” said Busse.
In their study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal’s online CMAJ Open, Mac researchers surveyed nearly a dozen family physicians from across Ontario in order to understand their positions on medical cannabis “in greater detail.”
Through their one-on-one interviews, Busse said a number of issues that led to a “reluctance” to authorize medical cannabis for patients stuck out.
Busse said there was a “discomfort” with how to manage cannabis once it had been authorized, such as dosing and the type of products people could use — those include oil capsules, sprays as well as balms.
Another concern was potential harms associated with the use of cannabis, said Busse. That included possible effects on cognitive development in adolescents, the potential “exacerbation” of existing mental illnesses and the drug’s effects in older adults, such as dizziness or drowsiness.
Busse said there was also a general “lack of knowledge” surrounding medical cannabis.
“The reality is information on this treatment is not provided in a comprehensive way during undergraduate medical training,” he said. “Participants largely felt that they were left up to their own devices to educate themselves.”
Some doctors surveyed told researchers that due to their “discomfort,” they often directed interested patients to cannabis clinics. But they also expressed “concern” surrounding the “advice” their patients were receiving at said clinics.