Cannabis in Medicine and Dentistry: An Uncertain Future

May 16, 2017

By Dr. Steven Lin, DMD

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual Oregon Dental Conference in Portland. One of the most interesting topics discussed at the conference is the impact of marijuana (cannabis), its active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD), in the medical and dental industries.

As many in healthcare may know already, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, and according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, "has no currently accepted medical use." However, in the last few years, we have seen a nationwide movement towards greater decriminalization of cannabis use including legalization in several states. This has only confused the public and healthcare providers about the appropriateness of cannabis in everyday life and medical therapies. Just as there are discussions within countless communities nationwide regarding marijuana statutes, health professionals are also debating the impact of cannabis in clinics.

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Cannabis is a hotly debated topic in medicine, namely because its limited acceptance in the past has led to a shortage of accurate scientific investigation into its effects on health. This is rapidly changing, as healthcare must respond to the rapid changes in society's attitudes towards cannabis use. What was once considered unacceptable in many social settings is now being revisited as a new kind of freedom, and with it a rising expectation that the pro-cannabis movement will gain traction. Healthcare professionals are now encouraged to respond to a growing number of questions: Is recreational cannabis safe? Can patients be treated for medical or dental needs while using cannabis? Will cannabis create pharmacological challenges in the management of treatment?

And more importantly, another question has arisen: Will we as health profession begin to see the rise in cannabis use as a recommended therapy?

Moral and legal questions aside, research into cannabis use as both a recreational and medical medium is a fascinating topic. We're beginning to witness more studies emerge from research into cannabis that are showing efficacy in reducing opioid abuse, lowering stress levels, and accelerating healing after surgeries. At the same time, because of the difficulty of running controlled studies due to its Schedule I status, other research points to the exact opposite conclusions.

Our patients and communities are all eager to learn more from us regarding what rising cannabis use will mean for health and healthcare. And because we don't yet have concrete information, this is certainly a challenging topic which will take much patience, effort, and collaboration to unravel the answers.

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