If you’re just starting out with medical cannabis, you might be wondering about how to talk to your doctor about your decision to use this beneficial, but still controversial, herbal medicine. While it can be intimidating to talk about medical marijuana with your doctor, it’s also incredibly important that anyone treating you medically has a complete picture of your health, including knowledge of all the medications you’re taking. Over the years, I’ve had both good and bad experiences talking to my general practitioners and have found that the way you approach the discussion can make a big impact on the result.
In this article, which is part of a series geared towards folks new to cannabis, I’ll share some tips on how to make your own conversations with general practitioners an easier and more successful experience.
I wish I’d known to seek out a cannabis specialist when I first decided to use medical cannabis. I started my attempts at getting a cannabis recommendation by going to my general practitioner and asking him for a recommendation. The response wasn’t what I was hoping for. Instead of helping me, my doctor glared at me and rolled his eyes, quickly shutting the conversation down. What I later learned is that doctors can face the risk of losing their medical license—and sometimes even risk imprisonment—when they recommend cannabis. For this reason, many of them are unwilling to recommend cannabis, even if they believe it might help improve their patient’s condition.
Luckily, there are cannabis specialists who dedicate their time and careers to treating cannabis patients specifically. Finding a doctor in your area who specializes in medical marijuana should be your first step when trying to get a recommendation. These doctors are educated in cannabinoid medicine and willing to give out recommendations for its use. If you’re in California or New York, you can talk to a cannabis doctor here on HelloMD, and get all of your questions answered by someone with the credentials and education to give you the information you need.
Once you have a recommendation to use cannabis from a specialist, you’ll want to update any other doctors who treat you—letting them know you’ve started using cannabis. In preparing for these talks, it can help to gather a little bit of research on using cannabis for your specific conditions or symptoms. HelloMD is a great place to start, as it has a wealth of articles on different medical uses of cannabis. You can also find helpful resources on websites like Norml, which lists medical research by condition or symptom, so you can easily find studies that support cannabis’s use for your particular needs.
I find that printing out a relevant study or two to bring with me to my doctor’s appointment can help aid the discussion. Most doctors haven’t been trained in cannabinoid medicine, so they might not know whether cannabis is right for your situation. Showing them peer-reviewed studies can help doctors understand that you have sound reasoning behind your decision, helping put them more at ease.
When you get to the appointment with your doctor and need to have the long-awaited cannabis conversation, it can help to begin by sharing how cannabis helps you. I usually bring this up when doctors are going over my list of medications, saying something like, “I have a recommendation to use medical cannabis for my chronic pain and anxiety conditions. It’s been the only thing that helps me with my intense nausea and chronic muscle tension.” By jumping straight to the results of my use, the doctor understands that this is something that’s actively helping me.
I’ve found most doctors are fine with my cannabis use when they know that it’s having positive results. Some are curious and will follow up by asking for more details about what types of cannabis I’m using. Others ask about whether I’ve tried more conventional treatments, and why I chose cannabis instead.
With these follow-up questions, I try to answer honestly and reference the studies I brought with me. I talk about the negative effects I experienced with other treatments, and the benefits I’m now experiencing. Most doctors I’ve talked to have been incredibly understanding when I use this approach.
In rare cases, you may find that your general practitioner—or the medical group they work for—has anti-cannabis views or policies. For example, if your doctor is part of a large practice with branches in multiple states, they may have company-wide policies against marijuana use.
At one point, I changed health insurance companies and found myself trying to get healthcare at a practice with policies against cannabis use. I was told I’d be tested for cannabis every few months and if I came up positive, they’d take me off all of my other medications. Since I was still withdrawing from medications that were fairly dangerous to stop suddenly, I knew I only had one good option: to change practices.
It took some time and effort, but I was able to find another medical provider who respected my choices and had no problems with my medical marijuana use. If you find your doctor or practice has an unfavorable view towards cannabis, switching doctors may be your best bet.
Talking to your doctor about cannabis can be an uncomfortable and potentially nerve-wracking experience, or it can be easy and empowering. It all depends on your approach.
You can greatly increase your chances of a positive reception by:
- preparing ahead of time by getting your cannabis recommendation
- bringing some research, and
- planning a brief explanation to introduce the ways cannabis helps you.
Most doctors just want to help; make it easier for them, and they’ll usually make it easier for you.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our Cannabis for Newbies guide covering tips on finding cannabis products in your area. Need a medical marijuana recommendation? Consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.