Nine Florida physicians are authorized to order a cannabis product to treat patients. Doctors may order oil processed from a low-THC strain of marijuana for patients starting Jan. 1. The Florida law which allows them to do also mandates they complete an eight-hour continuing education course and pass an examination. The course has been available for two weeks.
“This is probably one of the better kept secrets – that this course is ready,” said Louis Rotundo, who lobbies for the Florida Medical Cannabis Association.
Rotundo said because of confusion over the proposed rules for the Charlotte’s Web law, the FMCA was among the group that challenged proposed state regulations for medicinal marijuana, delaying implementation of the Charlotte’s Web law. Rotundo suggests some physicians are waiting to see what the rules are going to be before deciding to include cannabis in their doctor bag.
Others are not so sure.
“The apathetic numbers indicate the demand is not out there amongst physicians and families,” said Chris Moya, whose lobbying clients include medical interests. “A good example of patient demand not being what many claimed it was during session.”
About 125,000 children in Florida suffer from severe epilepsy and their families were among those who persuaded lawmakers to pass SB 1030 in May. The measure allows physicians to order low-THC cannabis product for patients suffering symptoms of seizure or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
Medical marijuana presents a problem for physicians in that as an illegal substance in the U.S. its medicinal use has not been researched through clinical trials. Florida, like Massachusetts and Arizona, require participating physicians to complete a continuing education course that includes information about the plant, potential side effects, how the drug may alleviate symptoms and a review of conflicting state and federal laws.
Michael Schatman writing for Medscape, a neurology news site, speculates physicians are reluctant to treat patients with marijuana out of fear of losing the privilege to prescribe controlled substances to treat chronic pain patients.
“The reality of the license to prescribe controlled substances being issued by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration clearly has served, for many physicians, as a deterrent to the authorization of medical marijuana,” writes Schatman.
The Florida course is administered by the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association. Some of the educational material used was created by Harvard Medical School associate professor Stephen Corn who cofounded The Answer Page medical website, dedicated to pain medicine and palliative care.
The on-line Florida course comes with a $995 cost.
Privacy regulations prevent the FMA from releasing the names of doctors who have completed the course. A spokesman said a tenth physician has registered but not completed the eight-hour class.
Charlotte’s Web oil becomes legal under Florida law beginning Jan. 1 but it is unclear when it will be available. The Department of Health is working on a set of regulations that includes the licensing procedures for nurseries to grow marijuana. DOH declined to say when it expects to publish a proposed rule.
“The Department of Health will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses,” said Nathan Dunn, DOH communications director.
Rotundo expects more physicians will sign up for the course once medicinal marijuana regulatory issues are resolved.
“Until they see a final set of rules, where this industry is going, why bother to go through this process,” said Rotundo. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of confusion.”