There’s a professional society for seemingly every kind of medical specialist, even cannabis clinicians.
Or medical marijuana physicians. Or pot doctors, in street parlance.
And just as there’s a choice of what to call physicians who use the plant to treat everything from pain to multiple sclerosis, there’s a choice of three different medical associations to represent them. Their emergence over the past 15 years coincides with the legalization of medical marijuana in 29 states and Washington, DC, and recreational marijuana in eight states and DC.
The three associations amount to friendly rivals that strive for professional respectability, which hasn’t always attended their field. David Bearman, MD, a board member of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine (AACM), castigates medical marijuana dispensaries that have hired bikini-clad young women to lure passersby inside for a quick visit with an on-site clinician.
“We wanted to marginalize those people,” Dr Bearman told Medscape Medical News about the formation of his group.
The AACM, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC), and the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association (AMMPA) all want to educate the public and the medical profession alike about marijuana and its therapeutic chemicals and see more research in this field. Despite strong headwinds from the federal government, one being an unsympathetic attorney general, they have high hopes for their work, which they say could become a bonafide medical specialty.
They have their own electronic medical marijuana record, for crying out loud.
Branching Out From California Roots
The SCC is the oldest of the three marijuana physician societies, formed in 2004 by the California Research Medical Group. That organization, in turn, was created by the late Tod Mikuriya, MD, who helped write the seminal 1996 ballot resolution in California that legalized medical marijuana and caught fire in other states.
Of the group’s roughly 350 members, about half are physicians in specialties as diverse as geriatrics, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and psychiatry, SCC President Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD, told Medscape Medical News. Membership, which costs $150 a year, is open to any clinician, be it naturopath or nurse practitioner, who is authorized by his or her state to “recommend” medical marijuana (prescribing is reserved for legal drugs). Membership has spread from the West Coast across the country and abroad.
The group offers, among other things, courses on medical marijuana good for continuing medical education (CME) credits, online quarterly meetings, and a collection of case reports on the group’s website (“Neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer, was treated with cannabis after failure of conventional therapy. Cancer disappeared after 4 years of regular cannabis use.”).
Physicians like Dr Hergenrather would argue that human beings are made for medical marijuana, given the body’s recently discovered endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are retrograde neurotransmitters that attach to cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system and help regulate pain, appetite, memory, immune response, and other bodily functions. Marijuana plants contain more than 100 biological cousins called phytocannabinoids — chief among them tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — that work like natural endocannabinoids to bring the body into balance, said Dr Hergenrather, a self-styled “cannabis consultant” in Sebastopol, California. Marijuana also contains molecules called terpenes that can reduce anxiety or control seizures, he said, but phytocannabinoids inspire the most medical interest.