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Physicians need specialized training on cannabis risks: Experts


As medicinal cannabis is made legal in an increasing number of states, physicians should ensure they are fully informed on the effects of the drug, even if they don’t prescribe cannabis themselves, a panel of experts said.

Doctors recommending cannabis to patients have to follow standards of care to protect themselves from medical malpractice suits, but the standards of care for the medical cannabis sector are evolving, said Lori Semlies, a White Plains, New York-based partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP.

She was speaking during a Business Insurance webinar on Wednesday that is part of a series of webinars examining risk management and insurance issues related to cannabis and hemp.

Cannabis “has a remarkably safe profile,” but it can have some side effects, such as feelings of paranoia or anxiety, dizziness and short-term memory issues, Jessica Knox, San Francisco-based co-founder of American Cannabinoid Clinics and Doctors Knox Inc., a wellness company.

“These risks can be mitigated by informed use, which is why it’s so important to clinicians to be educated,” she said.

The form of cannabis used also requires expert advice, she said. For example, patients with lung disease probably should not inhale cannabis, but there is evidence that inhaling cannabis can be used to treat some patients with asthma, Dr. Knox said.

All dispensaries should employ pharmacists to ensure the drug is dispensed safely, said Paloma Lehfeldt, Washington-based director of medical education at Vireo Health, a medical cannabis producer.

“There’s so much more than recommending a particular strain for a particular ailment,” she said.

While there are training programs for so-called budtenders that sell cannabis at dispensaries in some states, “it’s just not the same as going through a training program such as medical school or pharmacy school to learn about all the systems of the body with which cannabis interacts,” Dr. Lehfeldt said.

In addition, physicians that recommend cannabis to patients but who do not prescribe the medication also need to be well-informed on the side-effects of the drug, Ms. Semlies said.

“If it’s your patient you owe a doctor-patient relationship,” she said.

A recording of the webinar can be accessed here.