HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Even though medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years, some doctors offered free training in the subject this week declined to attend because they were concerned their colleagues might see them at the sessions.
That's an indication of the stigma surrounding medical marijuana just five months before the state is scheduled to open marijuana dispensaries across Hawaii.
One of the companies applying for a medical marijuana dispensary license on Oahu, Manoa Botanicals, is sponsoring free workshops for doctors, nurses and the public this week.
"They need know that cannabis is really medicine. That there's a biologic basis to cannabis to use that as a therapeutic tool," said Dr. Sue Sisley, medical director of Manoa Botanicals, a psychiatrist from Arizona who has been involved in marijuana treatment and research.
Sisley is in charge of the only Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trial studying medical marijuana's effects on post-traumatic stress disorder victims. She's conducting training sessions in Honolulu.
"Physicians, because we're not exposed to this material in training, a lot of the docs are still resistant to the idea that this is medicine. They don't understand how to dose it or how to advise patients on how to use it," Sisley said.
Sisley said many members of the public don't realize they don't have to smoke a joint to receive the medical benefits of marijuana.
"There's vaporizing, there's all these infused products like creams, ointments, lozenges, capsules. So there's all kind of innovative ways that cannabis can be delivered as medicine," Sisley added.
Brian Goldstein, CEO of Manoa Botanicals said, "As more publicity around this law and the opening of dispensaries occurs, more people will be going to their physicians and their APRNs (advanced practice registered nurses) and asking can medical marijuana help me for whatever that condition is?"
A free public information session on medical marijuana will be held, Saturday, Feb. 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Moiliili Community Center, with Sisley making a presentation for the public, caregivers and medical professionals as well as taking questions.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering whether to allow highly-trained nurses to prescribe marijuana.
One legislative proposal calls for advance practice registered nurses, who already have the power to prescribe schedule-two drugs, to also be able to prescribe medical marijuana.
Wendy Gibson, who describes herself as the only nurse on Oahu trained in medical marijuana treatment, said for some medical professionals, there's a stigma to prescribing pot.
"Many physicians are hesitant to make the recommendations because of that. So it would be really helpful to have another class of health care professionals who can make the recommendations," said Gibson, from the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii.
Sen. Josh Green, a physician, said he hopes nurses can help medical marijuana to replace hard core narcotics such as OxyContin and Hydrocodone.
"We have an epidemic of that stuff, and if nurse practitioners or MDs get comfortable with medical marijuana and it replaces that, it's going to be a win for society," Green said.