Bridging the knowledge gap

As the gap between medical professionals and the science of cannabis grows, some advocates are fighting to fill it

Medical Marijuana Cannabis Buds With Doctors Prescription For Weed. Medicinal Pot With Stethoscope. Selective Focus With Copy Space.

There are 27,000 licensed physicians in the state of Colorado. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), only 311 of those are registered with the government to write medical marjuana prescriptions. 

There used to be more medical marijuana physicians, says Martha Montemayor, a certified nutritional consultant and the founder and director of Colorado Cannabis Clinicians (CCC). But the Regulating Marijauna Concentrates bill, HB1317, changed that (Weed Between the Lines, “Now in Effect,” Jan. 6, 2022). Passed last year, the bill not only severely restricts medical patients’ access to cannabis, but also changed the rules for doctors recommending cannabis to patients. Cannabis recommendations were legal and protected by a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (Conan v. Walters). While cannabis prescriptions were still federally illegal and could cost a doctor their medical insurance or license. They could recommend cannabis concentrates, for example, to a patient suffering from epilepsy. They could not prescribe it. 

HB1317 now requires doctors to actually write patients prescriptions for cannabis concentrates — which cost the state a lot of medical marijuana physicians, according to Montemayor. At the beginning of 2022 there were well over 400 of them. After HB1317 went into effect, over a third of those disappeared.

“That said, when you go to the Department of Public Health website, it shows that 30% of people in Colorado have used cannabis in the last five years,” Montemayor says, adding that, when you look at national statistics, 52% of adults have tried cannabis in their lifetimes. 

“That means over 95% of doctors know nothing about something that half of their patients have already used and 30% use regularly,” she says. “That’s a gap we want to bridge.“

Montemayor started the non-profit to support doctors, clinicians, caregivers, marijuana industry professionals, anyone working with medical marijuana patients, with science and with advocacy help. They provide education based on science for medical professionals, about a topic many see as too taboo to touch.

In 2014, CCC held its first Marijuana for Medical Professionals Conference. The event is yet another effort on Montemayor’s part to bridge that knowledge gap between doctors and the science of cannabis. It isn’t something taught in medical school, and it certainly isn’t something doctors and nurses learn about in the hospital. And with the amount of mis- and dis-information surrounding this still-federally scheduled substance, doing research on one’s own can be confusing and disheartening. The Medical Professionals Conference is a chance to plug medical professionals into the right spigots of information. It offers certified continuing medical education and continuing nursing education for physicians, nurses and clinicians.

“One of the problems is doctors who write medical marijuana in Colorado are excluded from a lot of conventional medicine,” Montemayor says. “And as a result, we have a lot of doctors who know nothing about it. … How are you supposed to make a good recommendation for a patient when you don’t know anything about it yourself?”

The fourth Medical Professionals Conference will take place this Nov. 4, 5, and 6, and the schedule of seminars and lineup of speakers is the most impressive yet. 24 MDs, PHDs, RNs, lawyers, cannabis business-people, and even representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will speak over the three-day event at the Hyatt Regency in Aurora. The keynote speaker this year is Spanish physician Christina Sanchez. Her research on cannabis and breast cancer helped prove that the entourage effect is real and tangible (Weed Between the Lines, “All about those terpenes,” May 27, 202).

Montemayor says there will also be doctors discussing their experiences using cannabis to treat AIDS and HIV patients. She invited Dr. Libby Styut, an addiction psychiatrist who Montemayor calls “one of the architects of HB1317” to talk about her real experiences with teens who have had psychotic breaks after using cannabis concentrate. 

“We really do have something for everyone who works with cannabis patients,” Montemayor says. 

The conference isn’t just for doctors and nurses, either, Montemayor says. A lot of doctor- and nursing-students attend to learn about a medicine their schools aren’t allowed to discuss. A handful of business owners and entrepreneurs show up to learn more about the medical science surrounding the plant they sell. There are even a few curious journalists listening in to get the scoop on the newest science and developments in cannabis medicine. 

“Our goal is to bridge that knowledge gap so that doctors in Colorado feel confident talking to patients about medical marijuana,” Montemayor says. “It’s going to be a fantastic conference.”