How to Talk to Your Physician About Medical Cannabis: 10 Points to Guide You
Living with chronic pain is challenging, especially when opioids may be less available. If you are wondering about other pain relief options—including medical cannabis—here’s a guide discussing alternatives with your doctor.
There are many ways to start a conversation with your doctor If you feel awkward bringing up the topic of medical marijuana. If you suffer from a chronic medical condition and have not found adequate relief from pain and other symptoms using traditional medicines, you may be thinking about trying medical cannabis (also commonly referred to as medical marijuana) as part of your treatment strategy.
A growing number of states (currently 31 plus the District of Columbia) have approved cannabis use for medicinal purposes to treat a host of serious and chronic medical needs from nerve pain to nausea and anxiety. (Note: the conditions which qualify for its use vary from state to state.) According to proponents, medical cannabis can relieve pain, reduce inflammation, lessen nausea/improve appetite, control epileptic seizures and more. Also of note, in a Fall 2018 PPM online patient poll, about half of respondents said they had tried medical marijuana to help alleviate their pain or pain-related symptoms.
If you have a medical condition that qualifies for medical cannabis use in your state, you can start by talking to your primary care physician about the options, benefits, and risks of using it therapeutically for your specific situation, says David Bearman, MD, a physician with 40 years of experience in the substance abuse field and author of the recent book, Drugs Are NOT the Devil’s Tools: How Greed and Discrimination Led to a Dysfunctional Drug Policy and How It Can Be Fixed.
10 Key Considerations
Before broaching the subject, It is helpful to know the basics about medical cannabis and some of the issues and concerns involved in its usage. Here are some points to help guide your conversation with your physician:
#1. Not all medical cannabis is the same.
Photo courtesy Robin R. Buckallew, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database Medical cannabis comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, and there are hundreds of different strains out there. “Cannabinoids are the molecules in the cannabis plant matter that have a medical value and perform certain actions in the body,” explains Sharmilla K Patil, MD, CAS, FDM, who serves as the CMO of Divine Balance Medical Group and CEO of Greentech Laboratories, Inc.
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Two of the best-known types of cannabinoids contained in most strains are THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (the name for cannabidiol). THC causes the psychoactive effect that people typically associate with cannabis use; CBD offers many therapeutic applications without the psychoactive properties.
Most people use a strain that contains a mixture of both compounds. Experts say low doses of THC can be effective for treating anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Higher doses are typically required for pain relief.
#2. Medical cannabis can be used to treat a variety of conditions.
“Some of the more frequent reasons for cannabinoid medicine specialists [or other physicians] to recommend cannabis is to treat pain and to treat anxiety,” Dr. Bearman says. “Other common conditions that cannabis can address include [but aren’t limited to] migraines, epilepsy, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, depression, Crohn’s disease, nausea, appetite stimulant, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and autism.” (Keep in mind that the conditions cannabis is approved to treat will depend on the state in which you live.) Your doctor may be able to discuss your condition and explain how medical cannabis can be used to address your symptoms.
Some people are not good candidates for this form of treatment. Your practitioner should be able to tell you if this is true for you. As with any medication, pregnant women should consult a doctor before use and those with schizophrenia should use cannabis only under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
In addition, Dr. Bearman points out that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a warning for users of Marinol (prescription synthetic THC) and other psychoactive drugs, which is not to drive, operate heavy equipment or engage in dangerous activity until the substance’s affects are evaluated in them. Something to keep in mind when using medical cannabis as well.
#3. Medical cannabis comes in several forms.
Dr. Bearman suggests you ask your physician to recommend the best ratio of THC to CBD to look for in a marijuana strain, as well as to offer a suggested dosage and route of administration. Medical cannabis can be taken in a variety of forms, including being smoked, vaporized, sublingually (under the tongue), ingested, and used topically. When you visit a dispensary with your doctor’s recommendation, if the staff there is experienced and well-informed, they can also help guide you to identify the best option for the type of results you are seeking. Some patients prefer to grow their own cannabis. You can also talk to your doctor about going this route, too.
#4. Side effects are usually minor but do exist.
“While cannabis does have a few side effects, they are generally dose related and occur more frequently in novice users, and in most cases nonmedical recreational consumers,” Dr. Bearman points out. “These side effects include paranoia, panic attacks, and dysphoria [a feeling of deep uneasiness or dissatisfaction]. Therefore, the best advice with medical cannabis is to “start low and go slow,” he stresses.
#5. You don’t need a prescription for medical cannabis but you do need a physician’s recommendation.
If you are an appropriate candidate for medical cannabis treatment, your physician can provide a medical cannabis recommendation that can be used in your state. Since medical cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, doctors don’t formally prescribe it; they recommend usage. A physician’s recommendation is needed to purchase the substance at a medical marijuana dispensary.
You may also want to use the recommendation to apply for a formal medical marijuana card, which enables you to be a registered medical cannabis user in your state. (Note: The card is an optional step in many states, but be sure to find out the laws where you live.) Dr. Bearman points out that the benefit of having a medical cannabis card is to offer protection in the event you need to prove to law enforcement that you are using it for a valid medical reason. Law enforcement may ignore the doctor’s letter (the courts will recognize it, however) but the card is an official state document and can help you avoid unnecessary hassle.
#6. Cannabis use laws vary by state.
To learn the medical cannabis laws in your state, several online resources are available. Sites such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Marijuana Policy Project, and the United Patient’s Group provide information about regulations in each state. You can also call your state legislators for more information about local regulations.
It’s also important to understand that medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law but in states with controlled medical cannabis laws, patients with physician’s recommendations don’t generally need to be concerned about this. In 2014, Congress budgeted no money to enforce the federal anti-marijuana law (the Controlled Substances Act of 1970) in states where cannabis is legal. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) points out that the laws are meant to protect against drug rings and aren’t meant to target individual people using cannabis for approved therapeutic reasons.
“No patient should be worried. The states that have medical marijuana usually have amendments that protect patients and physicians from federal laws,” stresses Philip S. Kim, MD, CEO and founder of the Center for Interventional Pain Spine, LLC, in Newark, Delaware.
Dr. Kim also points out that for people in states that don’t have medical cannabis laws, they can ask their doctor about dronabinol, a synthetic THC and the generic form of Marinol, which is FDA approved and available nationwide.The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website reports that medications containing THC that are approved by the FDA can help with nausea control, improved pain, reduced inflammation and improvements in muscle control issues.
#7. There’s more than one way to start the conversation with your doctor about using cannabis therapeutically.
If you’re unsure how to bring up the subject of using medical cannabis with your doctor, Dr. Bearman has a few possible openings. Try talking about someone else you know (“a friend”) who is using medical cannabis effectively; mentioning a book on the subject that you have recently read or a documentary or news show you’ve watched or asking about research you’ve discovered on the Internet. “Any of these tactics can kick off a conversation with your doctor,” he says.
#8. Not all doctors are up on the latest research on medical cannabis.
You shouldn’t assume that your doctor is well versed in the current medical cannabis literature. One way to find out his level of knowledge is to inquire if he or she has attended any continuing education programs or workshops about cannabis recently. Dr. Bearman says that you shouldn’t be surprised if the answer is, “no.”
“Most physicians have not even been taught about the endocannabinoid system [the neurotransmitter system that cannabis affects for results], let alone the medicinal value of cannabis [the plant matter] and cannabinoids [the molecules]. Even physicians who make cannabis recommendations may be unfamiliar with its value, dosing, and/or strain in treating a less common condition that may respond favorably to cannabis,” Dr. Bearman explains. So, be sure to do your homework and understand the options and issues involved in using medical cannabis.
#9. If your physician doesn’t recommend cannabis for you, you can still find a doctor who specializes in this treatment.
If your condition qualifies you to use medical cannabis in your state and you don’t have any contraindications that make usage risky, but your primary care physician isn’t comfortable making a cannabis recommendation, ask him or her for a referral to another clinician. Medical cannabis practitioners can also be tracked down online through resources such as the Medicinal Marijuana Association.
#10. Medical cannabis use can negatively impact your career and finances.
While the majority of states have some type of medical cannabis law in place to make it accessible for patients who qualify, there are still some important implications that people should think about before they decide to use it. For instance, regular usage could impact life insurance premiums and could also put you at risk on the job in some circumstances if your employer performs drug testing and is not willing to recognize the medical benefits of this drug. (Dr. Bearman notes that the use of synthetic THC [dronabinol] will be reported as a negative test result, so this could be worth considering.)
Your best bet is to ask your doctor about the benefits and risks associated with any options you are considering so you can determine what makes the most sense for your specific symptoms and circumstances.
If you're considering trying medical cannabis for pain relief, here's how to speak with your doctor about getting a recommendation for the substance that is currently legal in 28 states.
Do I Need a Medical Marijuana Card to Buy CBD Oil?
As the push for the legalization of medical marijuana has intensified into one of the more popular topics of discussion in the United States, advocates have been putting increasing pressure on more states to legalize cannabis entirely. Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in only ten states , but as an industry, cannabis has had an incredible year of growth.
This incredible growth has got a lot to do with the increasing popularity of cannabidiol (CBD). The most popular used form of CBD is CBD oil, but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the legality of these products.
Despite the fact that the majority of states have legalized some of, or all forms of cannabis use, on a federal level, the DEA still classifies CBD as a schedule 1 drug. This means that it’s considered to provide no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. According to the law, this is how the cannabis plant as a whole, including CBD, is classified.
However, at the end of last year, the 2018 Farm Bill was passed which has legalized industrial hemp on a federal level. The act states that industrial hemp and its derivatives (including CBD) are now legal on a federal level. This development is a real game-changer for the CBD industry. But it has added a bit more confusion to the issues surrounding the legality of CBD oil. While cannabis-derived CBD oil is still not legal in all states, hemp-derived CBD oil is now fully legalized.
The Difference Between Cannabis-Derived CBD Oil and Hemp-Derived CBD Oil
Broadly speaking, in the botanical world, there are two kinds of cannabis – hemp plants and drug plants. This differentiation is also often referred to as marijuana and hemp. Both are cannabis plants, but they have very different purposes. Hemp plants are typically grown for fiber and seed oil, while drug plants include non-intoxicating CBD-rich plants and intoxicating THC-rich plants .
Hemp is Cannabis sativa, and marijuana is either Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa. Essentially, hemp is the well-known and legal term for cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC, and marijuana is the well-known and legal term used for cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC.
The main difference between drug plants and hemp plants is the resin content. Industrial hemp plants are low-resin plants, while drug plants are high-resin plants. Initially, the U.S. federal law defined marijuana in terms of its resin content. Here’s the definition of marijuana as encoded in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA):
“The term marihuana means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L. [sic], whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.”
So what does all this mean? Well, essentially, certain parts of the cannabis part, including “mature stalk” and “sterilized seed” were exempt from the legal definition of marijuana. Hemp seed oil is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant.
Here’s what you need to understand about the difference between CBD that is hemp derived and CBD that is cannabis/marijuana-derived. Marijuana is harvested for its buds, which include psychoactive properties, like THC, which is known to produce stoned effects. Hemp, on the other hand, is harvested from the stalk and seeds of the crop. These hemp plants don’t contain enough THC to make anyone high. Ultimately, for cannabis to be considered as hemp, it should contain no more than 0.3% THC.
Is Hemp-Derived CBD Oil Legal?
Hemp CBD oil products are legal to purchase without a prescription throughout the U.S and in at least 40 other countries around the world. Essentially, provided that products are made from oil that has been extracted from hemp and not marijuana, you are able to buy it in all 50 states without a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana card.
It all boils down to the difference between hemp and marijuana, as explained above. While THC and marijuana are prohibited under federal law, CBD isn’t specifically listed under the Controlled Substances Act. Since the definition of marijuana according to federal law (as stated above), excludes the oil extracted from the seeds, as well as the mature stalks of the plant, hemp CBD is classified as legal. This means that CBD products that are hemp-derived/originate from these parts of the plant aren’t prohibited under federal law.
In 2018, President Trump passed the 2018 Farm Bill , which effectively removed hemp from the list of schedule 1 substances and reclassified it as an “agricultural commodity.” According to the new bill, the law states that if the CBD is derived from hemp and adheres to the below regulations, it’s removed as schedule 1 substance and is considered legal:
- The hemp has less than 0.3% THC
- The hemp adheres to the shared state-federal regulations
- The hemp is grown by a properly licensed grower
The 2018 Farm Bill also withdrew restrictions on the sale, possession, and transportation of hemp-derived CBD products. This means that hemp-derived CBD products can be transported across state lines as long as it adheres to the regulations above.
Is Marijuana-Derived CBD Oil Legal?
This is where things get complicated again. Since marijuana-derived CBD originates from a plant that is still classified as illegal, things are not that straight-forward.
In states where the use of recreational marijuana is legal, like California and Colorado, marijuana-derived CBD is obviously also legal. However, in some states, marijuana is only legal for medicinal purposes . In these states, you are only allowed to use medical marijuana/marijuana-derived CBD under certain conditions, meaning that you would need a medical marijuana card to purchase CBD oil. In other states, marijuana is strictly prohibited, and thus, so is marijuana-derived CBD oil.
There are currently 15 states where cannabis – including both hemp and marijuana – are completely legal for both medicinal and recreational use. These states are:
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
If you are lucky enough to live in one of these states, you are legally allowed to buy any kind of marijuana and CBD products, regardless of where it is derived from.
There are currently 47 states (including the above 10), where marijuana-derived CBD oil is legal for medical purposes. The specific regulations vary from state to state, but most states allow the use of medical marijuana for a broad range of conditions. However, there are those states that set specific requirements for approved use. For instance, the CBD must contain less than a certain percentage of THC, or the patient must suffer from a specific condition .
The specific requirements for a person to use marijuana-derived CBD vary from state to state. Before purchasing CBD oil in any of these states, you are encouraged to research the regulations. In one state, chronic pain may qualify you to obtain a medical marijuana card, and in another state, it may not. This is why it’s important to look into the specific laws for each state.
Final Thoughts: Do You Need an MMJ Card to Buy CBD?
Ultimately, what you should understand from this article is that the legality of CBD oil and whether you will need a medical marijuana card to purchase these products, all comes down to where the CBD is derived from. If the CBD oil is derived from hemp, you are legally able to buy it throughout the United States without a medical marijuana card.
However, if the CBD oil is marijuana-derived things are a little more complex. Unless you live in one of the states where recreational marijuana is legal, you will need a medical marijuana card to purchase marijuana-derived CBD oil. At the end of the day, it’s all about where the CBD oil originates from.
Do you need a medical marijuana card to buy CBD oil? You're not alone if you've been asking yourself this question! Here, we explain all!