Docs slow to embrace Maryland medical marijuana program

marijuana leaf
One reason docs are apprehensive about prescribing marijuana: It remains illegal under federal law.

Maryland’s long-awaited medical marijuana program has hit a snag: Doctors aren’t signing up to participate in the voluntary program.

The state’s program, which was authorized in 2014, has only attracted 172 of Maryland’s 16,000 physicians, according to The Baltimore Sun. Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, says that’s going to mean a severe imbalance between supply and demand in the state.

While some doctors told the newspaper they see offering marijuana prescriptions as a way to attract new patients or as a potential alternative to opioid prescriptions, others see reasons to take a wait-and-see approach.

RELATED: Three more states approve medical marijuana use

One reason docs are apprehensive: The drug remains illegal under federal law, causing several of the state’s major hospital systems to forbid their doctors from recommending it. In other cases, the jury’s still out over the drug’s efficacy, in part based upon unclear evidence of its benefits described in a 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA.

“What do we tell people? Take two hits and call me in the morning?”
--Deepak Cyril D’Souza, M.D.

The Sun also reports that the already-low number of physicians who have signed up for Maryland’s medical marijuana program are in geographical clusters around Baltimore and the District of Columbia, making uneven access a worry, particularly in rural areas.

Physicians’ hesitancy to prescribe the drug based upon legal worries and the knowledge gap has also recently cropped up in Illinois.

As more and more states legalize medical marijuana, the questions about its effectiveness will need to be hammered out, according to Deepak Cyril D’Souza, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.

Although he admits to moderate evidence of effectiveness in some conditions, he believes the industry must address more basic concerns. “We don’t even have basic information on dosing like we do for all other medications generated from clinical trials,” he told the Sun. “What do we tell people? Take two hits and call me in the morning?”