Timothy Fong, MD: Cannabis Comes with Concerns and Therapeutic Potential

The public perception of marijuana has shifted significantly, and Dr. Timothy Fong addresses how to keep up with progressive research and what risk factors still need to be better understood.

There's been a massive shift in public perception of cannabis in the last 10 years and that's demonstrated in the legalization of it in a majority of states in the US, according to Timothy Fong, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Co-Director, UCLA Gambling Studies Program, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Director, UCLA Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"I'm very hopeful in the next 10 years, we're going to see a lot more science and really good data," Fong said in an interview with HCPLive.

Right now, there are only a few conditions in which cannabis can effectively help that are supported by substantial research. Beyond those conditions, the science isn't there yet, Fong explained.

"Part of the reason why we don't know more about cannabis and its impact on medical conditions is because of its listing as a schedule 1 drug with the government," he said, "which really prohibits and limits a lot of scientific research."

The lack of funding for cannabis research compared with other substances and conditions is another inhibitor to furthering the scientific understanding of the substance. However, that's changing, Fong said.

"You can't advance knowledge when you don't have hundreds or thousands of researchers doing work on cannabis. That's now changed," he said. "We created this Cannabis Research Initiative and now we have 2 postdoctoral fellows, we have 5 or 6 undergrad researchers. We have other PhD candidates studying cannabis — none of that existed even 8 years ago."

The attention that cannabis has garnered in the last decade hasn't only been driven by the public, but by health professionals as well. Fong's presentation at Pri-Med West 2022 addressed top questions from primary care providers (PCPs) about marijuana.

"The things that we worry about, again, are addiction," Fong said. "And we know that cannabis use disorder, or addiction, is a significant issue for about 9% of people who use cannabis."

He elaborated on areas where there are still concerns regarding cannabis use, particularly for younger people. Those under the age of 21 are at an increased risk of experiencing depression and mental illness in their 20s if they use cannabis regularly.

However, Fong believes there's a good reason that over the last 10 years there's been such a demand for cannabis research and access.

"The promise is there of a better life with the therapeutic potential of cannabis," he said.