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As legal recreational weed gains traction, doctors stay informed through new cannabis curriculum

The Massachusetts Medical Society recently launched a 'cannabis curriculum' to inform health care providers on everything they need to know about weed.
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Now that the recreational marijuana law has finally been signed by Gov. Charlie Baker and the state is shaping its Cannabis Advisory Board, the dream of legal weed is here to stay in Massachusetts.

Though medical marijuana has been legal here since 2012, the addition of legal recreational marijuana still affects the medical world, experts say.

That’s why the Massachusetts Medical Society has officially launched a Comprehensive Cannabis Curriculum series to help doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers get educated about the intricacies of weed.

The recently-launched curriculum provides information on the endocannabinoid system (the group of cannabinoid receptors in the brain) as well as dosing and administration information and how cannabis interacts with and affects other medications and drugs.

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“With legalization of both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana growing in states across the U.S., it is imperative that physicians be prepared to answer questions about marijuana use and to counsel their patients about any potential impact of cannabis,” said Dr. Henry L. Dorkin, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, in a statement.

The curriculum was developed with the aid of TheAnswerPage.com, a continuing medical education website that provides peer-reviewed information on a variety of fields of medicine.

TheAnswerPage is based in Massachusetts and began in 1998, founded by two pain specialists, Dr. Stephen B. Corn and Dr. Meredith Fisher-Corn. Fisher-Corn, who is also editor-in-chief of the site, explained that when medical marijuana was legalized in 2012, the couple’s 10-year-old son began asking them questions about cannabis that neither of them could answer.

“We were talking about medical cannabis and despite the fact that we’re both Harvard trained physicians, we knew nothing about medical cannabis or the endocannabinoid system,” she said. “The information that one would find on the internet either said that marijuana was the best thing or marijuana was the worst thing; There was no unbiased credible information out there.”

Prior to that legalization, TheAnswerPage provided information on opioid prescribing and risk management, pain and management of care and so on. The founders knew it was important to explore marijuana as more patients would be using it.

The Massachusetts Medical Society does not endorse the use of medical marijuana, but by adopting this curriculum, Fisher-Corn said, the society is acknowledging how important it is that doctors be informed about cannabis and ready to answer any and all questions their patients have — especially with the addition of legal recreational marijuana.

The course also details the therapeutic use of cannabis in different diseases from cancer to Parkinson’s to HIV/AIDS as well as the legal issues of marijuana use.

In Massachusetts, clinicians are required to take a certain number of continuing medical education credits in order to recommend cannabis to patients, she added. The new Massachusetts Medical Society course provides those, and it’s not just for clinicians practicing in the commonwealth.

“Now that so many states have legalized medical cannabis and some states have legalized recreational cannabis, it’s even more important that doctors, nurses and pharmacists are educated,” Fisher-Corn said. "[They all have to] communicate with each other when taking care of a patient using either medical or recreational marijuana.”