If you’ve ever tried to talk to your doctor about marijuana use, odds are they’ve remarked something along the lines of: “Well, I don’t know enough about it, but if it makes you feel better and/or helps with the pain, then keep on doing it.”
For better or worse, this seems to be the common consensus among physicians and other healthcare providers in the US; it’s not necessarily that they’re against the use of marijuana, it’s just that they don’t know enough about it in order to be able to prescribe it or to issue any kind of clinical advice on its use and/or dosage requirements.
And to be sure, this isn’t their fault considering that the scheduling of cannabis back in the 1970’s has all but put a stranglehold on clinical marijuana research.
In this article, we talk about whether or not general practitioner doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana, and how they might be able to do so on a broad, nationwide scale while maintaining full credibility as a practicing physician.
Does the Hippocratic Oath say anything about marijuana or drug use?
The modern Hippocratic Oath, which most doctors in the U.S. must swear on prior to issuance of their M.D., does not specifically mention anything about the use (or lack thereof) of cannabis – or any other illicit drugs.
Rather, it actually contains specific language that might be loosely construed as “pro-cannabis,” at least considering the wealth of medicinal benefits that marijuana has shown to have over the years.
Here are a few excerpts from the modern-day Hippocratic Oath, which paints a pretty clear picture that physicians should be using whatever means necessary in order to improve the health and well-being of their patients and the greater community:
“I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk…”
Most of the studies that have been done on medical cannabis have been carried out by research physicians, so ignoring (or choosing not to utilize) the medical discoveries of marijuana would be a potential violation of the Oath.
“I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required [to improve health]…”
The key words here, of course, are “all measures which are required.” In other words, the legal status of cannabis should not stand in the way of a doctor using marijuana to improve the health of his or her patients.
“I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”
Again, we see the key words “wherever I can,” thus implying that no option should be overlooked when it comes to improving the health of patients or the community as a whole.
As you can see, doctors all around the world are held to a moral obligation to provide health care to their fellow members of society. The Hippocratic Oath says nothing along the lines of “I will administer health care ONLY if it is legal,” or, “I will abide by the laws of my nation [when it comes to practicing medicine and providing health care].”
As such, the simple fact that physicians are held to this obligation implies that they should be able to prescribe marijuana as a medical treatment, no matter the legal status of the plant at the state or federal level.
How the government should help doctors regulate prescription marijuana use
That being said, we realize it would be thoroughly impractical for doctors to have free range to prescribe marijuana as they see fit. For better or worse, the federal government would need to get involved in order to establish some practical regulations and guidelines.
However, this would (and should) not be something that is inconceivable or beyond the scope of practicality.
If the government acknowledged the medicinal benefits of cannabis and removed the current Schedule I classification, for instance, it would allow researchers to provide doctors with the information and clinical bases they need in order to prescribe the drug as a viable form of therapy.
Like we said, it’s not that most doctors are against the use of cannabis – it’s that they don’t have the clinical information needed to responsibly prescribe it.
Essentially, the DEA has kept an incredibly powerful medicinal tool out of the hands of the exact people who should be trusted to employ its benefits — the doctors. Here is a hypothetical breakdown of what the government might be able to do in order to allow physicians to prescribe marijuana in all 50 states:
- Reschedule cannabis from its current Schedule I status so researchers can understand and optimize its clinical uses.
This would be the obvious first step in helping physicians better understand the clinical basis of marijuana – at least to the point where they felt comfortable prescribing it for medical conditions.
Research would have to cover things like dosage amounts, contraindications with other medications, and proper administration techniques (liquid form, capsules/pills, vaporizing, etc).
- Create a federal “Cannabis Certification Board” for physicians that are interested in prescribing marijuana to their patients.
Certainly not all doctors should be expected or mandated to prescribe cannabis for their patients. For the ones who are interested in using it as a prescription drug, though, a rigorous Cannabis Certification Board should be established in order to verify the doctor’s familiarity with the plant at the clinical level.
This would serve two purposes: 1) it would eliminate doctors who aren’t interested in cannabis from getting “harassed” by patients asking to prescribe them weed, and 2) it would verify that the doctor is prescribing marijuana on good faith and on a solid clinical foundation.
Simply put, the government should give doctors the “option” to prescribe marijuana for their patients (no matter what state they live in), rather than take the option out of their hands.
- Decriminalize the use and possession of cannabis for any citizen in possession of a marijuana prescription.
Obviously, it goes without saying that once physicians had the power to prescribe cannabis, individuals with a prescription would be exempt from any form of federal or state punishment as long as they abided by possession regulations, etc.
This way, the federal government could maintain a scheduling of illegal cannabis while still allowing it to be freely prescribed as a medicine.
- Limit the implementation of things like “cannabis doctors” and “420 clinics.”
It might sound weird for a marijuana website to advocate for the regulation of “420 clinics,” but more often than not, these centers are not much more than an attempt to cash in on the booming cannabis industry – approving anyone and everyone who walks through the door as long as they pay their $200+ “consultation” fee.
If cannabis-specific clinics were regulated (i.e. if doctors were not allowed to open a practice solely for prescribing marijuana), it would reduce the amount of bogus claims and ultimately, bogus prescriptions.
“The government should be giving doctors the option to prescribe marijuana for their patients … rather than taking the option out of their hands.”
Final thoughts: Should primary care doctors be allowed to prescribe marijuana?
Regardless of the legal status at the state and federal levels, primary care doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for patients who can benefit from it. There are just too many valid studies out there showing the real-life benefits of the plant for it to not be a medical treatment option.
As renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta puts it:
“[Cannabis has] very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes Marijuana is the only thing that works.”
Certainly, many thousands of critically ill medical patients who use cannabis would agree with this statement. Dr. Gupta goes on to say:
“It is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community – we have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the U.S… [as a doctor], I apologize for my own role in that.”
Of course, if physicians were to be able to prescribe cannabis freely and at their own discretion, certain regulations would need to be set in place to control the market and keep weed out of the wrong people’s hands.
Factors like a Cannabis Board Certification Committee and the regulation of “420 clinics” would certainly help in this regard.
On a more immediate and realistic note, however, the number one thing that the federal government can do at this moment in time in terms of promoting the medicinal use of cannabis is to remove its status as an illicit Schedule I drug.
This would open up research opportunities for medical professionals to understand more about the clinical use of the herb, which would allow doctors to be able to prescribe it with precision, accuracy, and confidence for a wide range of diseases and ailments.