Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Human Biology

Second Department


Reader 1

Marcus Rodriguez

Reader 2

Sarah Gilman


Background: In recent years, the renewed global interest in both hallucinogens’ and cannabis’ therapeutic properties has resulted in shifting attitudes and legislative policies worldwide. The aim of this systematic review is to explore the existing literature on medical professionals’ and students’ attitudes and knowledge regarding medicinal cannabis (MC) to assess any relevant and significant trends which may forecast analogous trends in the nascent clinical acceptance of hallucinogens.

Methods: Using Google Scholar and PubMed, a literature search was performed to identify studies pertaining to healthcare professionals’ and medical students’ knowledge and attitudes regarding MC. This systematic search yielded 43 studies published between 1971 and 2019; inclusion criteria included the following: 1) the studies were complete and not simply abstracts or systematic reviews; 2) they provided relevant data regarding respondents’ knowledge and attitudes regarding MC; 3) they were published in English and originated in a country with a healthcare system and legislative policies comparable to that of the USA; and 4) they contained medical professional (or student) respondents only; or, if the respondents included mixed groups, the study segregated and sorted data based on one’s status as a medical professional or non-medical professional. Studies were then coded according to the following five guiding research questions: 1) Do respondents believe that cannabis should be legalized for medicinal purposes, and have these opinions changed significantly over time?; 2) Are respondents confident in their level of knowledge regarding cannabis’ health effects and clinical applications?; 3) Are respondents adequately convinced of cannabis’ therapeutic potential? What are respondents’ main concerns regarding the incorporation of cannabis into the medical system?; 4) What current gaps in knowledge exist, and how can the medical community become better informed about the therapeutic uses of cannabis?; and 5) Are there significant differences between the knowledge and opinions of healthcare students’ versus healthcare professionals’ with respect to any of the aforementioned research questions?

Results: At a multi-national level (from 1990 to present), both medical students’ and professionals’ support for the legalization of MC has significantly increased (r(19) = .44, p = .045). Moreover, medical professionals favor the legalization of MC at a significantly higher rate than students (52% vs. 42%, respectively; χ2 (1, N = 9019) = 50.72 p < .001). Furthermore, an assessment of both respondents’ desire for more educational material on MC and respondents’ concerns regarding MC’s potential to cause dependence and addiction showed a ceiling effect, with respondents consistently reporting high levels of desire for more educational material and a high level of concern regarding MC’s addictive potential, but with no significant changes over time (r(13) = -.10, p = .713 & r(11) = -.13, p = .673, respectively).

Discussion: This systematic review yielded several statistically-significant trends pertaining to healthcare professionals’ and medical students’ knowledge and attitudes about MC. As MC use and legalization continues to proliferate internationally, further studies are needed to elucidate complex sociocultural barriers to the acceptance of MC, which are likely to be closely correlated with barriers to the clinical acceptance of therapeutic hallucinogens. Limitations, cross-cultural mechanisms, clinical implications, and recommendations for future research are discussed.