What to Expect the First Time You See the Cannabis Doctor


A qualified cannabis doctor is the best route for proper treatment with medical cannabis.

If you want to talk with a cannabis doctor but aren’t sure about how it may go, you’re not alone. Many patients feel anxious discussing “weed” with a medical professional, but rest assured the nervousness is all one way.

A cannabis doctor upholds the same standards as all physicians. And their process is identical. Importantly, the only difference is the medicine you leave with.

The first thing you can expect is for the cannabis doctor to find out about your medical history and current medications, then ask questions about your needs and symptoms. Just like other doctors, there is total confidentiality.

But, what if you live in an illegal state? Can you still get advice from your doctor?  In fact, this very privacy was tested and confirmed in the U.S. by a 2004 court ruling upholding First Amendment rights of patients and physicians. In 1996, the federal government adopted the policy that a doctor’s, “action of recommending or prescribing Schedule I controlled substances is not consistent with the ‘public interest.’ Further, “such action would lead to a revocation of the physician’s registration to prescribe controlled substances.”

Importantly, physicians can talk to you about cannabis and they can advise you on your cannabis-related concerns, even in illegal states.

What Happens the First Time You See a Cannabis Doctor?

But just because it’s safe and easy, doesn’t mean you can’t be anxious. It’s common for first-time patients to be unsure of what to expect when talking to a cannabis doctor. Think about the questions you need to ask and your expectations. This leaves you better prepared, less nervous, and more likely to hear medical advice.

Before booking an appointment, here are some things you want to keep in mind. First, understand what you want. Make a mental list of the ailments that bother you and note which symptoms are top priorities. Have specific maladies in mind that you want to treat. You won’t get far by coming in and asking, “How can cannabis help me overall?”

Instead, ask about your afflictions — arthritis, anxiety, chronic pain, etc. Be ready to explain how long you’ve had the disease and how it affects your everyday life.

Next, be ready to answer basic questions. How much experience do you have with cannabis? Are you a recreational user with a high tolerance? A cannabis doctor will want to gauge your interest and experience levels before recommending a course of action.

Finally, how much do you personally know about cannabis including different chemovars, cannabinoids, terpenes, as well as benefits and risks?

After you’ve figured that out, you can formulate your own questions for the doctor. Good questions to ask include: How well cannabis works for your particular ailment? How will you know you’ve found the right dose? Is there a way to deal with side effects (like being avoiding becoming high at work)?

cannabis doctor represented by female physician helping patient

Is a Cannabis Doctor a Real Doctor?

There is concern that people who see a cannabis doctor aren’t getting serious medical attention. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cannabis doctors have gone through the same years of rigorous training every doctor goes through and then some. Most states and provinces require cannabis doctors to complete extra training if they want to recommend cannabis to patients.

The cannabis doctor has a better understanding of the endocannabinoid system and how it’s affected by cannabis.

A well-read and experienced cannabis doctor and can help guide patients toward making smart, informed decisions. They can answer important questions, such as “Will cannabis interact negatively with my current medications?” and “Are there side effects that I should be particularly concerned about?”

Knowing the answers to simple questions like these can make the entire process easier to manage. A good cannabis doctor can even point you toward reliable information about cannabis, and help you make sense of the often-conflicting information you can find online.

Best of all, a cannabis doctor can tell you when you don’t need cannabis. While it’s a recognized medicine that helps all sorts of ailments, cannabis is not a panacea. It cannot do everything. While regular MDs might scoff at its abilities to fight cancer symptoms or stave off neurodegenerative disorders, a true cannabis doctor will know when cannabis actually can’t help — and when it can.

Are Doctors the Only Professionals Who Can Write Prescriptions for Cannabis?

Contrary to popular belief, the answer is no — but for different reasons in the U.S. and Canada.

In Canada, both medical doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe cannabis, according to the federal laws. However, each province has the ability to restrict and define these rules.

For example, regulatory bodies in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta have stripped nurse practitioners of the ability to prescribe weed. Be sure to check your local guidelines before scheduling an appointment with your nurse practitioner to discuss cannabis treatments.

Importantly, registered nurses may not prescribe cannabis anywhere in Canada.

In the U.S., no one — not even a cannabis doctor — can prescribe cannabis. Why? Because American federal law still considers it to be a Schedule I substance that has no medical use.

Instead, doctors and registered nurses in the 30 states that have legalized it can “certify” patients to receive medical cannabis from one of the approved medical dispensaries in their state.

And only certain doctors are given the license to certify. Doctors and nurse practitioners must pass screening processes from their state’s health board to qualify.

cannabis doctor represented by young male doctor speaking to elderly patient

How do I “Certify” for Medical Cannabis?

Certification is what people commonly refer to as “getting a medical cannabis card.” It’s what allows people to buy cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries.

Doctors in the U.S. certify patients for cannabis card, which includes sending signed paperwork to their state’s board of pharmacy or other medical cannabis governing body. That institution then issues a patient a medical cannabis card, usually within a couple weeks.

Once a card is obtained, you can simply drive to the closest medical-grade dispensary, flash your new qualifications, and choose your medicine. Medical dispensary workers function like pharmacy employees: They will take the doctor’s recommendation and either fill it (if it’s specific), or help you pick out a medicine that meets your needs.

While a card is unnecessary to purchase cannabis in areas with legalized recreational weed, there are strong benefits to getting one.

First, getting a card ensures that your cannabis consumption is approved by licensed professionals who are pro-weed. A cannabis doctor will gladly suggest the right chemovar for the right kind of ailments, some diseases aren’t well managed by cannabis.

There’s also an economic incentive to getting a cannabis card. Many places, including most legalized states, tax medical cannabis differently than recreational weed. Becoming a certified patient can net big savings on medicine.

Most states tax medicinal cannabis at or below ten percent. But recreational cannabis taxes can be as a high as thirty-seven percent.

Even factoring in the cost of a doctor’s visit, medical cannabis patients almost always spend less on cannabis after a doctor’s visit than by buying recreational.

It’s also true that in many cases, medical dispensaries offer higher potency cannabis than recreational shops. Patients who need the powerful medicine — those with cancer, severe pain, and more — often find greater benefits with medicinal grade cannabis.

cannabis doctor represented by cannabis in grinder held by doctor

Can Anyone Get Medical Cannabis?

In the U.S., patients who receive medical cannabis must meet certain qualifying conditions in order to be approved for treatment. Canadian patients, deemed qualified by a physician, may be treated with medical cannabis.

In America, every cannabis doctor and nurse must follow state guidelines that dictate which diseases and disorders may be treated with weed. Qualifying conditions will vary from state to state, although there are some rules of thumb that can help you determine whether you’re likely to meet the threshold.

For the most part, most states and provinces includes the most researched conditions: epilepsy and seizures, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, chronic pain, and muscle-wasting disorders such as HIV/AIDs, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The most common reason patients seek help from medical cannabis include  chronic pain, anxiety, nausea, and PTSD.

Some states have provisions that allow cannabis to be used to treat basically “whatever a doctor says,” although in every state, doctors and nurse practitioners make the final call on accessing medical cannabis cards. If your doctor or nurse does not believe you need one, they are under no obligation to certify you.

The best way to prevent that scenario is to do your research and arrive prepared.

Are Online Cannabis Doctors Legitimate?

Many patients seek out second opinions when confronted with medical professions who scoff at cannabis treatments. In many cases, they are right to do so, but choosing an online cannabis doctors can be difficult.

Since legalization, online medical cannabis certification shops have sprouted like pop-ups ads on a poorly run website.

Some are legitimate doctors trying to increase patient access to cannabis, others are hucksters trying to make a quick buck who don’t care about providing the best, medically sound assistance.

Luckily, there are ways to tell the two apart.

Beware: Telemedicine Can be a Scam

Telemedicine has expanded in recent years, which has brought relief to thousands of patients in more convenient ways. One reasons it’s been so effective is the stipulation that the standard of care must remain consistent when doctors treat patient in person, over the phone, or online.

That means only a legitimate doctor will take your history, talk to you about your symptoms, ailments, and desires. They will also be willing — and happy — to follow up with you later, in order to assess how the medicine and help adjust dosage and usage.

Some online portals do not offer such services. If you find a website that claims it can certify you for medical cannabis without speaking directly to a doctor, skip it.

Patients who simply fill out questionnaires and then wait for their paperwork to arrive, are given fraudulent or incomplete certificates (after being billed, of course).

How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Cannabis Telemedicine

Some simple rules of thumb to avoid a scam when using an online cannabis doctor:

  • Prepare to pay. A doctor’s exam costs money. If a website claims you can talk to a doctor for less than $50, chances are it’s not legitimate. Alternatively, if they are over charging you to get a grow license (Canada), also beware.
  • When a site offers “evaluations” instead of “consultations,” it’s a clue that the medical service provided is not verified by the state’s board of health.
  • If you cannot get the name of evaluating doctor and only talk with an assistant. Remember, registered nurses cannot certify patients or prescribe cannabis. Neither can a chat bot on a nefarious website.
  • Sites that ask you to select your state from a drop-down menu instead of servicing a single area are more likely to be scams. This should be viewed as a red flag and proceed with caution.
  • It asks you to fill out a very short medical history without much detail. Even though the paperwork is often the worst part of visiting a doctor, it’s an essential part of the process. The prescribing or certifying physician must know your history and current medications in great detail. 
  • Any gimmick common to promotional websites, like coupon codes or sales, are red flags for illegitimacy.

cannabis doctor represented by male doctor speaking to female patient

 Should I Talk with my Primary Care Doctor First?

Many patients prefer to start their medical cannabis journey with a primary care physician. This is a trusted expert, after all, who has real experience meeting your needs and a proven track record in helping you heal.

These are all great reasons to discuss medical cannabis with a primary care physician or nurse practitioner, but there are downsides. First, if you decide to go this route, you could experience pushback. Many family practice doctors and general practitioners remain naive to cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. And for this reason, are not comfortable prescribing or giving recommendation.

Because the research around medical cannabis is so new, many physicians missed the chance to study it in medical school. Additionally, professional development opportunities are rare.

Cannabis may be the most exciting realm of medical research happening today. But the same things that thrill researchers, such as new discoveries, novel uses, groundbreaking therapies, and novel interactions, are major red flags to practicing physicians.

Doctors prefer well-tested treatments, those that the medical community agrees upon. A cannabis doctor, however, is far more familiar with both the research and the laws surrounding the plant. They are normally more knowledgeable about what conditions cannabis best combats — and which conditions do not qualify for medical cannabis treatment.

For these reasons, it is to your benefit to seek advice from a certified cannabis doctor.

 



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