A group of Canadian doctors recently injected another dose of skepticism into the ongoing debate over whether marijuana’s medicinal properties rightfully justify all the pot prescriptions being doled out by healthcare providers. Despite the growing number of patients who choose cannabis to manage various ailments, a panel of 18 experts found that weed is grossly overprescribed, a trend that they attribute to the lack of comprehensive studies that support the plant’s medical potency.
After scouring existing clinical trials and studies, the team of doctors published guidelines in the journal Canadian Family Physician that advise their colleagues on when a medical marijuana prescription is appropriate.
As Gizmodo reports, the study’s authors found only a “short list of conditions that likely seem to be helped by weed.” Among them were “certain forms of chronic nerve pain; muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries; vomiting and nausea brought on by cancer treatment; and pain from otherwise terminal illnesses. But even there, the benefits were usually modest at best, and harder still to see with smoked medical weed.”
Additionally, Michael G. Allan, lead author of the guidelines, found “not a single randomized study of depression” or general anxiety disorder.
“Some physicians have become [complicit] with these ‘patients’ as a means to earn money.”
By now, medical weed advocates are accustomed to hearing cannabis-related callouts from cynics who have declared medical marijuana as mostly pomp with no circumstance. These new guidelines are expected be shared among 30,000 Canadian clinicians. So, are health care providers likely to consider these new guidelines when prescribing marijuana-related treatments in the future?
Dr. Latisha Rowe, family medicine specialist and founder of The Rowe Network, feels there is already a reluctance among medical professionals to present cannabis as a cure-all. “Very few providers are willing to engage in treatment as there is a negative stigma around the use of marijuana in general. Providers are concerned with possible repercussions of prescribing the drug.”
Rowe’s concerns are only one of many that stem from the complexities surrounding the scarcity of suitable studies. According to Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained cannabis specialist, the prevalence of cannabis prescriptions is not a medical problem, but a political one.
“There is no question that cannabis is being over-recommended,” Dr. Tishler tells Playboy in an email. “Since cannabis is federally illegal in both the U.S. and Canada, it forces would-be recreational users to seek medical approval for their use. This involves either overstating minor medical issues, or fabricating problems entirely. Further, some physicians have become [complicit] with these ‘patients’ as a means to earn money.”
Tishler also says that recreational users posing as patients visit dispensaries to purchase products physicians wouldn’t recommend. This activity, compounded by non-science-based advice from dispensaries and the limited availability of legitimate products, makes it more challenging to treat actual patients, a problem Tishler says can be remedied by the federal legalization of recreational use.
Meanwhile, Rowe agrees that more research is necessary to quantify the effects of medical cannabis and also believes those efforts are hindered by recreational marijuana use.
“The issue we face with research for medical marijuana is that the drug has been used recreationally for so long it will be hard to determine if individuals in the study are enrolling for the right reasons,” Rowe explains. “Despite the obstacles, we have to find a way to standardize treatment so those who need help can receive the benefit. Companies like VyriPharm are focused on ensuring quality controls in the industry and are actively engaged in researching the benefits of medical marijuana.”
Considering the fact that there are currently 29 states with legal medical marijuana, the lack of substantial studies isn’t likely to stifle the use of pot as a medical treatment. However, hopefully these new guidelines will help medical professionals assist patients in making health care decisions that are more informed instead of half-baked.