If you’re new to cannabis and have learned that you can consume it legally where you are, getting a recommendation from a doctor or other certified healthcare professional to use marijuana medicinally is often one of the first and most crucial steps in getting started. In most states that allow for the use of medical marijuana, this recommendation gives you the legal protection to use your medicine.
While asking a doctor to recommend cannabis can seem intimidating for some, it can also be incredibly easy if you know how to approach the situation. In our third article of a multi-part series geared towards folks new to cannabis, we provide the tools to help you make your first recommendation experience smooth, easy and worry-free.
When I first decided to try out cannabis for my chronic pain, my first step was talking to my general practitioner. I had just moved to California for graduate school and thought that because medical cannabis was legal in the state, it was something that any doctor would recommend to me. I went in to talk to the general practitioner at my university’s health center; he’d been prescribing the pharmaceutical options I was taking at that time. I had done my research beforehand and knew that cannabis had worked well for others with my condition, but when I broached the subject, I was immediately shut down.
“We don’t do that here,” the doctor said brusquely and shot me a look of annoyance and disapproval. “I thought it was legal for medical use here in California?” I replied. He waved off my question without a verbal response and quickly exited the room, ending our consultation.
That was the first, but certainly not the last, unpleasant conversation about cannabis I went through with other general practitioners. I wish someone had been there to tell me what I know now: Always go to a cannabis specialist when trying to obtain a cannabis recommendation.
Your doctor may not be as opposed to cannabis as mine was. In fact, some studies suggest that the majority of doctors don’t see cannabis use as something to be concerned about. Still, it’s incredibly rare to find a GP who’s willing to actually recommend cannabis to their patients.
Doctors are worried about their own liability when it comes to recommending cannabis to patients. Cannabis is still classified as a federally illegal Schedule 1 substance. Meanwhile, medical licenses are federally regulated. What this means is that doctors aren’t legally allowed to prescribe cannabis to their patients without risking their medical license, and potentially their freedom.
Dr. Perry Solomon, HelloMD's Chief Medical Officer.
What doctors are permitted to do is “recommend” cannabis to patients, but the line between prescribing and recommending can be blurry. Unfortunately, doctors have been imprisoned and had their license to practice medicine taken away when recommending cannabis in unsanctioned ways. When you understand the potentially precarious position doctors could find themselves in, it’s easy to see why some of them might be unwilling to even consider recommending medical marijuana.
Not all doctors are opposed to recommending cannabis. In fact, a growing number have made it their life’s work to help qualified patients get access to medical marijuana. These practitioners, who often work for cannabis-specific practices, are not only willing to put themselves out there as cannabis doctors, they also tend to have more specialized knowledge on the latest research and legal landscape surrounding medical marijuana.
Since most medical schools still don’t teach their students about cannabis or the endocannabinoid system (the system in the human body that interacts with cannabis), many doctors don’t know much about treating conditions with marijuana. Cannabis specialists are more likely to be able to answer your cannabis questions than your general practitioner can.
If you live in California or New York, HelloMD is a great place to find qualified cannabis doctors who can:
- review your situation.
- answer your questions.
- give you medical advice about using medical marijuana.
Because we work through telemedicine (live video), you can have your consultation done without leaving your house.
If you live in another state with medical cannabis laws, look for cannabis-specific practices in your area. Many states have registries of the local doctors that are licensed to recommend in cannabis. Take New Jersey for example; the NJ Department of health offers on online portal where patients can search for doctors nearby. This can vary by state but is often available through the state’s medical marijuana program.
At your appointment, be sure to bring your medical records, and let your doctor know about any medications you’re on or health conditions you have. Cannabis is an incredibly safe medicine, but there are certain conditions for which marijuana is contraindicated and a few medications that it shouldn’t be mixed with. Make sure your doctor knows about your individual situation so she can give you the best advice possible.
Once you’ve received a medical cannabis recommendation from a specialist, that’s when you’ll want to let your general practitioner—or any other doctors who treats you—know about your cannabis use. I’ve found GPs to be much more accepting of cannabis when you aren’t asking them to recommend it.
Regardless of their stance, it’s important for all of your doctors to know that you’re using cannabis because they’ll need to take it into account when prescribing new medications. Not knowing about it could affect their ability to accurately evaluate and support your health.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our Cannabis for Newbies guide covering tips on how to talk to your general practitioner about cannabis, once you have your recommendation in hand. Need a medical marijuana recommendation? Consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's 100% online, private and easy.