Some doctors still aren't comfortable recommending medical marijuana


Doctors around the state are still questioning medical marijuana for treating certain conditions, according to a new survey.

The Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research met with lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the a recent decision by the state's Department of Health – to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition for the Minnesota's medical cannabis program, the Session Daily says.

Using marijuana to treat chronic pain is a concern for many doctors who were part of an informal survey that was presented at the meeting.

It found roughly 65 percent of the 262 doctors surveyed do not think intractable pain should be a qualifying condition to receive medical cannabis, while about 17 percent were unsure.

Doctors were concerned with how the use of medical marijuana could affect the abuse of opioids – something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called an "epidemic" in Minnesota and around the country.

A quote from one doctor surveyed was included in Tuesday's presentation:

"I would have a difficult time giving patients both medical marijuana and narcotics. I already am trying hard to get patients off narcotics for chronic pain issues due to dependence, etc. I feel marijuana will have the same issues as we are currently having with narcotic use."

The health department wants to add cannabis to the state's prescription drug monitoring program, hoping it will help prevent potential abuse, the Star Tribune reports.

Doctors still don't know enough about it

The survey also found many doctors still aren't on board with medical cannabis because they don't know enough about it to recommend it for patients. They also cited all the red tape and hassle that comes with being certified for the program.

Minnesota law doesn't allow doctors to actually prescribe marijuana – instead doctors who are registered with the Office of Medical Cannabis can certify patients for the program, who then visit medical marijuana clinics to be approved for the program and obtain the drug. (Read more about the program here.)

But fewer doctors than expected have gotten certified, the West Central Tribune notes. This was also a problem when the medical cannabis program launched last summer – patients were having trouble finding a doctor who was able to certify them.

Not only are patients frustrated they can't find a doctor who's willing to recommend the drug, but the slow-growing program and lower-than-expected enrollment numbers has caused the price of medical cannabis (which isn't typically covered by insurance) to spike, the Star Tribune notes.

As of Jan. 3, 479 health care providers are certified through the program, while a growing number of patients have been approved to pick up the drug – currently there are 844 Minnesotans who can legally use medical marijuana, the Minnesota Department of Health's website shows.

People with intractable pain will be able to register with the program come July 1, and on Aug. 1 they'll be eligible to pick up the drug, the health department says. Adding this qualifying condition is expected to significantly grow the number of people in the program.

You can watch the entire Tuesday meeting, which is over an hour long, below:

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