Why are Physicians Hesitant to Recommend Marijuana?

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia and the majority of Americans support medicinal use. However, the medical community is still resisting this new legal medication despite the fact that it is legal in more than half the country. Each state with legal medical pot faces its own challenges in implementing a program. However, physician participation in medical marijuana programs is an issue across the board. So, why are physicians hesitant to recommend marijuana to their patients despite permission from the state government to do so?

Recommending vs. Prescribing Medical Marijuana

When it comes to recommending vs. prescribing medical marijuana, it is important to understand that physicians are doing just that – making a recommendation. Doctors are not writing a prescription for medical marijuana like they would other medication. Instead, they are simply signing a statement. They are confirming that yes, this patient has a condition that the state believes medical marijuana could treat.

Patients then take their physician recommendation to state officials. From there, state officials either approve or deny the patient’s legal use of medical marijuana. At that point, the patient can go to a dispensary, not a pharmacy, to get their medical marijuana. They will have to pay for it out of pocket since it is not covered by insurance companies. Insurance companies don’t cover medical marijuana because they are federally regulated. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in the same class as drugs like heroin and ecstasy. Marijuana is deemed to have no medical purpose, and it is considered highly dangerous, according to the federal government. Despite those complications, the doctor’s role in all of this seems easy enough. So, why are physicians hesitant to recommend marijuana?

why are physicians hesitant to recommend marijuana

Why are Physicians Hesitant to Recommend Marijuana?
Top Concerns when it comes to Doctors and Pot

Here are three reasons why some physicians are still hesitant when it comes to recommending medical marijuana.

Lack of Formal Education and Research

There is still a lack of formal education and research available on medical marijuana. Physicians are concerned about how much they don’t know about the drug. For example, doctors question how much patients should be taking and how it will interact with other prescription medication. Each user is affected by marijuana differently. It’s difficult to measure exactly how much someone should take to curb their symptoms.  However, with medical marijuana legal in so many states now, more and more research will begin to emerge.

Legal Concerns

Physicians have legal aspects to worry about when it comes to medical marijuana. For starters, many states require physicians who want to recommend marijuana to register on a list. The federal government has not cracked down on physicians who are recommending medical marijuana, but some fear that the political climate could change. Physicians don’t want to get in trouble for recommending a federally illegal substance to patients. Physicians have other legal concerns about medical marijuana such as getting sued by patients who have a bad experience with marijuana.


Studies show that many doctors are in favor of medical marijuana. In fact, 76 percent of providers in North America are in favor of cannabis for medicinal use, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. With that much support across the board, why are physicians hesitant to recommend marijuana? Obviously, stigma plays a huge part in the reluctance to get involved with the medical marijuana industry. In small communities, doctors fear they will become known as a “pot doctor” and lose credibility with patients who are against medical marijuana.

As a physician, what are some things that would make you more comfortable about recommending medical marijuana to your patients? Are you registered to do so in your state? Tell us about your experience with prescribing medical marijuana in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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