How Much Medical Cannabis Knowledge Do Healthcare Providers Have?

Written by Lisa Rennie

Americans are increasingly turning to alternative medicine, including cannabis and its secondary metabolites (e.g., cannabinoids and terpenes), to alleviate symptoms associated with a myriad of health issues. Given this, it would be beneficial for healthcare providers to be familiar with this natural therapeutic and its potential benefits, whether they choose to recommend it to their patients or not.

The question is, how much do medical professionals truly know about cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other compounds in the cannabis plant?

To date, few studies have assessed medically-relevant knowledge of cannabis. To counter this, a recent online survey was conducted to anonymously poll physicians in a university-affiliated health system to determine how much they understood about medical cannabis and its potential applications and benefits. [1]

Previous studies have found that healthcare providers have mixed feelings and ideas about medical cannabis and its applications. In fact, most medical professionals did not believe that medical cannabis improved the quality of life for patients, despite evidence to support its benefits. [2]

However, no study has comprehensively assessed general knowledge of medical cannabis among physicians. As such, the goal of the current project was to determine how much physicians know about medical cannabis based on the data currently available.


Physician Knowledge on Medical Cannabis is Lacking

Results from the project showed that knowledge of medical cannabis among physicians is low. Scores on medical cannabis knowledge ranged from 39% to 78% correct, with the average sitting at 58%. While 70% of the physicians polled (n=244) reported some type of cannabis education, 61% rated themselves as only slightly or not knowledgeable. What’s more, 64% reported their being somewhat uncomfortable or uncomfortable with adding cannabis to their patients’ treatment plans.

Nearly 90% of the physicians polled were unsure as to an appropriate dose of CBD and THC. Acceptable values were listed as between 2-10 mg based on other published evidence including the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association, Marinol, and other resources, but those polled suggested anywhere from 1-100 mg of THC and 5-100 mg of CBD!

Even wilder were the responses regarding what a “high-THC” cultivar looked like. A suitable reference range was listed as anywhere from 10-35% total THC in the plant, however, the values reported in the poll ranged from 0-92%! That’s right… 92%.

Medical school does not provide much training on medical cannabis, including how the cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), what ailments may be effectively treated with cannabis, or appropriate dosing. Instead, healthcare practitioners who are interested in learning more may be required to venture out on their own for in-depth training on cannabinoids and their therapeutic properties.


Patients Would Benefit from Physician Knowledge of Medical Cannabis

With such minimal expertise among healthcare providers about medical cannabis and especially the ECS, patients are not getting the type of responsible care they need or deserve. In many cases, workers at cannabis dispensaries wind up providing medical advice to patients, including recommending specific types of products and dosing based on health conditions. This dialogue can often include archaic references to indicas, sativas ,and hybrids, or the dizzying array of different cultivar names.

Considering how many Americans incorporate cannabis into their regimens in an effort to alleviate symptoms, it’s paramount for their healthcare providers to understand the potential effects of cannabinoids and how they interact with our bodies.



[1] Kruger DJ, Mokbel MA, Clauw DJ, Boehnke KF. Assessing health care providers’ knowledge of medical cannabis [published online ahead of print, 2021 Aug 31]. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2021;10.1089/can.2021.0032. [journal impact factor = 5.800; times cited = 1]


[2] Philpot LM, Ebbert JO, Hurt RT. A survey of the attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about medical cannabis among primary care providers. BMC Fam Pract. 2019;20(1):17. [journal impact factor = 2.48; times cited = 74]


Image source: Gordon Johnson from Pixabay


About the author

Lisa Rennie

Lisa Simoneli Rennie has been working as a freelance writer for more than a decade, creating unique content dedicated to informing consumers. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with others, and in her spare time, Lisa enjoys trying funky new recipes, spending time with her dog, and of course, reveling in the joy of family.

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