Cannabis has been providing relief to humans for thousands of years. But even as more and more states legalize it, the medical use of marijuana remains plagued by stigmas. Fortunately, prospective “users” can obtain the proven-effective medicine without looking like drug seekers.
“The essence of medical marijuana is that it’s for medical use,” says Jordan Tishler, a Harvard medical doctor who specializes in cannabis therapeutics and runs Inhale MD Health and Wellness. “You must have an illness that is treatable with cannabis.”
Obtaining it is a fairly simple process, according to Sarah Lisovich at CIA Medical:
- Live in a state that has legalized marijuana; have documented proof of residency
- Have a valid medical reason for obtaining the marijuana
- Obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor
- Find a reputable dispensary
But, until medical marijuana becomes truly mainstream, you may encounter a few bumps along the way.
You may need a new doctor
“Most doctors are not trained in the science of cannabis medicine,” says Emily Earlenbaugh, co-founder of Mindful Cannabis Consulting. “It isn’t part of their standard training, so medical professionals need to seek out cannabis education independently.”
Tishler suggests using an evidence-based approach with your general practitioner. “Look up some medical research on cannabis and your condition to discuss with your physician.” You can find condition-specific findings at norml.org. And a comprehensive survey conducted by HelloMD, a digital healthcare platform for the medical cannabis industry, provides a wealth of information for prospective users.
“If you’ve already tried cannabis and found it helpful, let your doctor know the ways in which it has helped,” adds Tishler. “Focusing on the positive outcome can help the doctor understand your reason for using medical cannabis.”
When your regular healthcare provider simply refuses to recommend cannabis, ask for a referral to a cannabis specialist. If that doesn’t work, you can safely and legally find a specialist by visiting Weedmaps . In less-restrictive states, such as California, any licensed physician can provide a recommendation. “There are many physicians that focus much, if not all, of their business on evaluating patients and writing such recommendations for a small fee,” says Lincoln Fish, CEO of Outliers Collective, San Diego County’s first medical marijuana dispensary.
“Whatever state you’re in, you want to find a physician who is knowledgeable about the use of cannabis for your condition and is focused on providing ongoing care,” says Tishler. “Avoid ‘card mills’ where you can get your state [medical marijuana] card quickly and cheaply but have no access to a caring physician.” He adds that most physicians who do not specialize in cannabis simply do not have the time and knowledge to use the medicine well. “So finding a cannabis specialist is important.”
When you do turn to another doctor for a cannabis recommendation, it’s important to keep your regular doctor in the loop. “Cannabis can interact with other treatments,” says Earlenbaugh. “After you’ve talked with a cannabis specialist, let your general practitioner know that you’ve received the recommendation.”
Your secret is safe
Once the recommendation is obtained, you can register with your state and acquire medical marijuana in various forms from a local registered marijuana dispensary. Finding a legal cannabis dispensary is as simple as an Internet search.
Many businesses still screen employees for marijuana use, unfortunately, even in states that have legalized medical and/or recreational pot (though the law continues to evolve on the matter). But while workplaces still might not have caught on, and each state’s regulation of medical marijuana is different, federal HIPAA rules regarding patient privacy do not vary: your medical cannabis business is private and confidential. Your practitioner won’t blab.
“HIPAA laws prohibit doctors from disclosing patient information except in very extreme circumstances,” explains Fish. “Doctors are very well regulated, and most states with a medical marijuana program treat cannabis as they would any prescribed medication when it comes to privacy.”
Your marijuana transactions are safe with the dispensary, too. By state law, dispensaries must keep records of patients—and these may be subject to review by certain state or local agencies—but the federal privacy laws prevent that information from being published anywhere.
“There is such valuable medicinal use to this plant, and those with cancer, epilepsy, arthritis, and PTSD find relief without side effects,” says patient Elizabeth Remington-Wishba, who uses cannabis to relieve arthritis and insomnia.. “To make people feel like criminals and deny safe access is purely political and a big pharma ploy.”