An Open Letter to Kaiser Permanente Medical School

Dear Bernard Tyson,

It’s very exciting that Kaiser Permanente has embarked on the challenge of opening a new medical school in Southern California and will be training future doctors in its model of coordinated care. I hope that Kaiser’s commitment to “rapidly adopting new technology and adhering to the latest medical evidence in patient care” includes teaching medical students on the endocannabinoid system, recommendation of medical marijuana, and care of patients using cannabinoid medicine.

In the United States, only 13% of medical school even mention the endocannabinoid system in any course, even though the endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in the body. Not a single medical school has an organized course on cannabinoid medicine. There are no residencies in cannabinoid medicine. Yet the endocannabinoid system regulates every other neurotransmitter system, and is present throughout the brain and body.

Doctors that want to educate themselves on the endocannabinoid system must teach themselves, or attend sporadic CME events throughout the country. New York moved in the right direction by requiring doctors that recommend medical marijuana to take a four hour course on cannabinoid medicine. Sadly this does not go far enough, as even doctors that completed the class felt inadequately prepared to care for medical marijuana patients. In California, a state where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, there is no mandated training for doctors, and patients do not receive the care they deserve.

American medical schools have not adapted their training to meet the needs of a nation rapidly legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana at the state level. Kaiser Permanente Medical School can fill this desperate need for cannabinoid medicine training, and provide a model for training doctors across the nation as well as the globe. I strongly urge Kaiser Permanente to take a leadership role, as it is far easier to implement a program in a new medical school than it is to adapt curriculum in established schools.

Medical marijuana treatment should be integrated into a patient’s holistic treatment plan, not something a patient has to hide from their doctor or seek advice for from internet forums. Even if a doctor does not want to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, they need to at least understand that their patients may seek another doctor that will. They need to understand that patients seeking medical marijuana are not drug addicts, mentally ill, criminals, or bad parents. They need to consider cannabinoid medicine not as a treatment of last resort, but as one of several options to be discussed with patients at the beginning of their diagnosis.

Medical cannabis works for more than just patients with cancer or terminal illness. New doctors need to understand how cannabis can reduce dependence on prescription opiates for pain management, and save lives by reducing opiate overdoses. They need to understand how CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that can be purchased outside of dispensaries in all 50 states, can reduce seizures in epileptic patients. Doctors need to know patients cannot overdose on cannabis and how the safety profile compares to other treatments for individual diseases.

The evidence that medical marijuana works has been shown through clinical trials conducted around the world, the U.S. government patent on “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants,” and thousands of publications on the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid medicine. The American Medical Association (AMA) agrees cannabinoids are an effective treatment for chronic pain, spasticity, and other conditions. It’s time start integrating this knowledge into the curriculum of American medical schools, starting with Kaiser Permanente Medical School.

As Chairman of Kaiser Permanente, I hope you take this opportunity to make cannabinoid medicine and education a priority within the Kaiser Permanente system and the new medical school. Your patients and doctors will truly benefit.


Michele Ross, PhD

President of Impact Network

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