National Doctors’ Day: Questions to Open the Medical Cannabis Dialogue

The Supreme Court ruled that physicians cannot be investigated, threatened, or punished by federal regulators for recommending medical marijuana to their patients. Although the law protects doctors, how should a patient go about bringing it up in the first place? Whether you’re already a medical cannabis user or interested in getting a recommendation, it’s reasonable and recommended to seek insight from the person tasked with helping you care for your body.

A study published in the journal J Psychoactive Drugs found medical cannabis patients fear stigmatization from the perception others will have of their cannabis use.

“The perceived stigma of being a medical marijuana user was profound enough that the majority of respondents never asked their regular physician about the possibility of using marijuana to help treat their health condition, but instead sought entrepreneurial ‘medical cannabis consultants’ and ‘medical cannabis clinics’ in order to obtain a doctor’s recommendation and a valid patient ID card,” the study noted. “This method, according to the patients, seemed one way to avoid potential embarrassment and stigma with their personal physician.”

This topic is tricky, so here are a few pointers to help you navigate discussing medical cannabis with your doctor.

Your conversation with your doctor is confidential

The information you provide your doctor during an appointment is confidential. Physician-patient privilege legally prevents the communication between a patient and their doctor from being used against the patient in court. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 mandates data privacy and security provisions that protect your medical information.

Know the medical marijuana laws

Before bringing medical marijuana use up to your doctor, you should know your region’s cannabis laws and regulations. These vary state to state, and if you live in one of the states where cannabis is illegal, you may find your doctor is hesitant to discuss the matter. As for those in decriminalized states, there are a few things to become familiar with. Before talking with your doctor, find out where cannabis is safe to purchase, consume, how old you need to be to qualify, and the possession limits.

Most importantly, ensure your symptoms indicate you have a qualifying condition for which medical marijuana may be prescribed. Most of these questions can be easily answered with some internet research about laws and regulations in your state or country.

Most physicians know about Cannabis scheduling, not it’s properties. It’s possible you’ll be the first patient to ask your doctor about it. Before you talk to your doctor, learn the basics of the endocannabinoid system and how phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) interact with it.

Understand what’s in your marijuana products

Lab analysis is one way to determine what compounds are in your cannabis. Growing conditions, drying, curing and extraction processes have an impact on the final product’s cannabinoid and terpene makeup, as well as the presence of unwanted substances.

The method of administration also determines the ultimate effects you might feel after using a particular product. It’s important to accurately keep track of what works in order to use a cannabis product effectively for medicinal purposes.

Preliminary questions to ask your doctor

Okay, so you’ve done your homework. You’ve confirmed that your ailment is a qualifying condition, reviewed the rules established by your state, and know which medical cannabis products you’d like to use. Here are some questions to ask your doctor before diving deep into your symptoms and sharing your research.

Do you provide medical cannabis recommendations?

If they answer yes, you can skip right to creating a treatment plan that works with your current lifestyle and will help you reach your health goals. On the other hand, if your doctor says “no,” you can always follow-up with:

Would you be comfortable making a recommendation under these circumstances?

Explain to your doctor what your symptoms are and how you expect medical cannabis use to help. Keep in mind, the existence of CB1 and CB2 receptors and endocannabinoids is probably not “breaking news” for your physician.

If your physician still has no interest providing a recommendation, seek a second opinion and point to the research available about cannabis as medicine to familiarize your doctor with its potential.

Establishing a cannabis treatment plan

If your doctor is familiar and comfortable with creating a cannabis treatment plan, here are some key questions to ensure you’re both on the same page.

How familiar are you with the endocannabinoid system?

I am currently, or am planning on, using A to help with B. What are your thoughts?

Are there methods you suggest I avoid?

Could cannabis use interfere with anything else I’m taking?

Are there other holistic or natural ways I could remedy this issue?

If your doctor is completely shut off from medical cannabis and you live in a medically legal state that doesn’t mean you are shut off, too. Many licensed and qualified doctors exist in states with medical marijuana programs and patients have a myriad of options.

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