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Canada’s medical cannabis knowledge gap two decades on

With doctors receiving no formal training in medical cannabis, how can we prevent the same happening in the UK?



Canadian doctors still lack knowledge of cannabis two decades on

Canadian healthcare professionals have ‘little knowledge’ of medical cannabis, despite two decades of legal access. Can we prevent the UK following a similar path?

Despite the federal government first legalising access to medical cannabis two decades ago, most Canadian healthcare providers admit having little knowledge about it and receiving no training in medical school, a new survey shows.

Data collected anonymously from around 70 healthcare professionals across Canada, reported that 56 per cent of respondents felt either “uncomfortable or ambivalent regarding their knowledge of medical cannabis”. 

Only six percent of medical professionals received any formal training about it while attending medical school, by contrast, 60 per cent said that they had attended either a workshop or a conference on the topic.

Fewer than one-in-three (27 per cent) acknowledged being familiar with the regulations surrounding patients’ access to medical cannabis products.

The findings were published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies.

Access to medical cannabis in Canada

Patients in Canada have had access to cannabis for medicinal purposes since 2001, under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), which established guidelines for patients to obtain legal authorisation to produce their own cannabis, designate someone to produce for them, or to access it through the country’s health authority, Health Canada.

This was replaced by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in 2016, under which patients can produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own purposes and purchase products from licensed producers.

According to the data, over 80 per cent of those surveyed said they had a patient under their care who was consuming cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The authors stated: “The majority of HCPs received little, if any, formal training in cannabinoid-based medicine in medical school or residency.

“Over half of respondents reported receiving more questions regarding MC [medical cannabis] since the legalisation of recreational cannabis, and nearly one-third were unfamiliar with the requirements for obtaining CMP [Cannabis for Medical Purposes]  in Canada. Respondents endorsed discomfort with their knowledge of MC despite over 80 per cent having patients who use CMP.

“These findings suggest that medical training programs must reassess their curricula to enable HCPs to gain the knowledge and comfort required to meet the evolving needs of patients.”

The UK outlook – can we avoid the same knowledge gaps?

These latest  findings are not unusual. The survey results are consistent with numerous other surveys from the United States and elsewhere which show that health professionals rarely receive any formal training about cannabis and that most lack sufficient understanding of the subject. 

Despite its discovery in the early 90s, the endocannabinoid system and the medicinal purposes of cannabis are still not universally taught in medical schools, including here in the UK.

Professor Mike Barnes launched the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society in 2019 to provide education for healthcare professionals and to try to avoid the UK following a similar path to countries which have more established medical markets.

He blamed the lack of formal training and the exclusion of cannabis from medical schools on “prejudice” and “false propaganda”.

“It is sad but not surprising to see such a lack of training in Canada. It is the same situation in the UK,” he commented.

“Cannabis medicine is barely taught in any medical school and most students leave university with no understanding of cannabis and not even much, if any, knowledge of the endocannabinoid system which is after all the most important neurotransmitter system in the body. All I can presume is that this is due to deep prejudice against the plant after years of false propaganda.”

The MCCS now has over 200 members and has trained doctors throughout the UK.

Professor Barnes added: “The Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society is doing its best to correct the situation with both an online training course and a face to face course every month for any clinician member.

“Over 200 doctors have now been trained which is at least a start.”

There are also a number of independent training courses which professionals can enrol in to improve their knowledge and understanding of cannabis medicine, such as Sativa Learning.

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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