"Medical education needs to catch up to marijuana legislation," said senior author Dr. Laura Jean Bierut, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
"Physicians in training need to know the benefits and drawbacks associated with medical marijuana so they know when or if, and to whom, to prescribe the drug," she explained in a school news release.
Marijuana is now legal -- at least for medical purposes -- in more than half the states in the country, the researchers said.
Curriculum deans at 101 medical schools completed surveys about marijuana education. Just over two-thirds said their graduates weren't prepared to prescribe medical marijuana. One-quarter said their graduates weren't even able to answer questions about medical marijuana.
The researchers also surveyed 258 medical residents and fellows from across the country. Nine out of 10 said they were unprepared to prescribe medical marijuana. Eighty-five percent said they hadn't received any education about medical marijuana.
A look at the Association of Medical Colleges database revealed that only 9 percent of medical schools taught their students about medical marijuana.
"As a future physician, it worries me," said study first author Anastasia Evanoff, a third-year medical student.
"We need to know how to answer questions about medical marijuana's risks and benefits, but there is a fundamental mismatch between state laws involving marijuana and the education physicians-in-training receive at medical schools throughout the country," Evanoff said.
She added that physicians are now getting better training on opioids.
"We talk about how those drugs can affect every organ system in the body, and we learn how to discuss the risks and benefits with patients," Evanoff said of opioids. "But if a patient were to ask about medical marijuana, most medical students wouldn't know what to say," she said.
The research was published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.More information
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on medical marijuana.
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