This is how to talk to your doctor about medical cannabis

Sep 6 2018, 3:37 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Michael Burton, Corporate Communications Specialist at Sail Cannabis.


For those who have discussed cannabis with their family doctor, the resulting conversation may have been confusing and possibly awkward.

As the law stands in Canada, healthcare practitioners remain as the gatekeepers of medical cannabis. Unfortunately, a patient’s access to medical cannabis can be restricted by their doctor’s preconceived notions or opinions of cannabis as a medicine. Regardless of the legal state of cannabis, doctors remain the best people to prescribe cannabis to their patients, as they consider how it will interact with other medications and determine the role cannabis will play in a patient’s health and wellbeing.

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The current state of medical cannabis in Canada

In Canada, our medical cannabis legal framework is known as the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). It places doctors at the centre of the medical cannabis conversation regardless of their opinions on cannabis. Despite having the power to prescribe cannabis, many doctors are conflicted on the plant as a medicine, either citing a lack of clinical research to support its efficacy or remain unwilling to prescribe it because they lack the education or tools to do so properly.

Typically, when patients look to their doctor to discuss medical cannabis, they are met with a sense of hesitance that speaks to the greater issues and questions that face the medical community.

Shedding stigma 

Cannabis as a medicine is quite new, especially in comparison to traditional treatment options for chronic pain like opioids. Doctors are uneducated on the topic, as their medical school curriculum typically doesn’t include any resources on the subject.

Many doctors are hesitant to prescribe cannabis as it is a deep dive into the unknown. Cannabis can’t be prescribed in the same way as traditional medicine and requires an element of trial and error on behalf of the patient.

There is a long list of consumption methods, specialty products, and strains to choose from. Oftentimes patients are left to experiment with different strains and products to determine what works best for them. Complicating the process further is that while one patient might find success vaporizing a specific strain to aid their chronic pain, another patient might see less success, and will need to utilize different products or consumption methods to determine what works best for them.

Furthermore, many healthcare practitioners adhere to a long-standing stigma tied to cannabis, asserting that it’s a recreational drug for the lazy and apathetic.

Cannabis is becoming more normalized in society as a result of recreational legalization and relaxing laws across the globe. Clinical evidence supporting cannabis as a medicine continues to grow as new research is pumped into academic hubs and journals. Over time cannabis is likely to shed its stigma and be embraced as a medicine across the globe.

Having ‘the talk’

Honesty is the first step towards discussing cannabis with your doctor. If you have consumed cannabis in the past or have experienced some sort of relief with cannabis, it’s best to explain that. There is a long list of qualifying conditions that allow patients to access medical cannabis, along with sub-text that asserts you can qualify for the medicine if you have exhausted other treatment options. Being open and honest about your cannabis use is a great stepping stone into the topic and promotes further discussion on the topic.

Cite clinical research supporting your qualifying condition is a great start for making a case regarding medical cannabis. Year after year new clinical research flows into medical journals, and the information is becoming increasingly more accessible. Share this information with your doctor, tell them about evidence that cannabis can address chronic pain, mood disorders, and seizures attributed to epilepsy.

Finally, share your experiences. Many potential cannabis patients are drawn to the possibility of switching to a medicine that has limited potential for addiction, and zero possibility for overdose. Opioids can’t boast the same claims, and many medications that address seizures are harmful, and often ineffective. As a patient, you have plenty of say in regard to your treatment, and making a case for cannabis is your right. Patients can push for cannabis and with the right argument, can be successful in obtaining the medicine.

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