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A Systematic Review of Medical Students’ and Professionals’ Attitudes and Knowledge regarding Medical Cannabis

Jared Weisman with Pitzer College

BACKGROUND

Recently, the renewed global interest in cannabis’ therapeutic properties has resulted in shifting attitudes and legislative policies worldwide. The aim of this review is to explore the existing literature on medical professionals’ and students’ attitudes and knowledge regarding medicinal cannabis (MC) to assess any relevant and significant trends.

METHODS

A literature search was performed to identify studies pertaining to healthcare professionals’ and medical students’ knowledge and attitudes regarding MC. The search yielded 40 studies published between 1971 and 2019. Studies were coded according to the following research questions: 1) Do respondents believe that cannabis should be legalized (for medicinal and/or recreational purposes)? 2) Are respondents confident in their level of knowledge regarding cannabis’ clinical applications?; 3) Are respondents convinced of cannabis’ therapeutic potential? 4) What current gaps in knowledge exist, and how can the medical community become better informed about the therapeutic uses of cannabis?; and 5) Are there significant differences between the knowledge and opinions of healthcare students versus healthcare professionals with respect to any of the aforementioned queries?

RESULTS

Cross-nationally, both medical students’ and professionals’ support for the legalization of MC has significantly increased (r(19) = .44, p = .045). Moreover, medical professionals favor the legalization of MC at a significantly higher rate than students (52% vs. 42%, respectively; χ2(1, N = 9019) = 50.72 p < .001). Furthermore, an assessment of both respondents’ desire for more education about MC and respondents’ concerns regarding MC’s potential to cause dependence and addiction showed a ceiling effect— with respondents consistently reporting high levels of desire for more educational material and a high level of concern regarding MC’s addictive potential, but with no significant changes over time (r(13) = – .10, p = .713 & r(12) = -.12, p = .678, respectively).

DISCUSSION

This systematic review yielded several statistically-significant trends pertaining to healthcare professionals’ and medical students’ knowledge and attitudes about MC. As MC use and legalization continues to proliferate internationally, further studies are needed to elucidate complex sociocultural barriers to the acceptance of MC. Limitations, cross-cultural mechanisms, clinical implications, and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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