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13 Things Cannabis-Friendly Doctors Want You to Know

Marijuana.

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Key Takeaways

  • As more states legalize marijuana, it opens the door for conversations about a substance that can be taken for medical or recreational purposes.
  • It’s important to consume cannabis products safely to enjoy the benefits.
  • Healthcare providers can help you understand if using marijuana is right for you. They can share their medical knowledge, observations, and trusted resources while also addressing any questions or concerns you may have.

Nearly one-third of Americans live in a state where marijuana is legal for medical or adult-use. Increased access across the country is sparking more questions and greater curiosity about cannabis products.  

It’s always a good idea to be honest with your healthcare provider about your state of health and the medications you’re taking. And now, there's the opportunity for patients and their healthcare providers to have open conversations about the drug.

There’s no need to be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about cannabis. In fact, many healthcare providers say these discussions are even more important to ensure you are getting accurate information from a trustworthy source.

Knowledgeable healthcare providers can help you decide if cannabis is right for you and how to safely consume it in a way that meets your needs and lifestyle.

What This Means For You

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about cannabis. If they react poorly or aren't comfortable broaching the subject, they may be able to refer you to someone who can discuss the potential of medical or recreational marijuana and its impact on your health.

What You Should Know About Cannabis

If your state legalized cannabis and you're interested in exploring the drug as a potential treatment option, talking to your healthcare provider is a good first step. Verywell spoke with experts to learn what they want patients to know about cannabis.

Read Your State’s Laws

Until or unless the federal government chimes in, marijuana will continue to be a patchwork of legality. State laws are changing fast, spurred by legislators, lobbyists, constituents, and market demand. Before researching marijuana further, it’s a good idea to check your current state law to learn what’s legal. You can check your state's health department for more detailed information on any available cannabis programs.

Eloise Theisen, RN, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, an expert faculty member at Pacific College of Health and Science’s Medical Cannabis program, tells Verywell that even among legal states, each program is administered differently and some are more restrictive than others.

One thing is certain, however: “As long as it remains a Schedule I drug [at the federal level], patients cannot travel with it out of state,” she says. “That can be quite distressing if they rely on cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals to manage their symptoms.” If travel is in your future, consult your healthcare provider about an adjusted treatment plan.

Check Your Employee Handbook

Some employers, unions, or industries have detailed drug policies—and they don’t distinguish between medical or adult use. After all, the drug test will still come back positive.

Certain employers have stopped marijuana testing because of state legality, but it remains grounds for dismissal for others, such as doctors and pilots. "If someone’s job is at risk for termination due to a positive drug screen, then we talk about whether this treatment is a good fit before they begin,” Theisen says. 

Treat It Like Any Other Health-Related Question or Concern

Rahul Khare, MD, CEO and founder of Innovative Care, a group of medical practices offering primary, urgent, and behavioral care in the Chicago area, says to be confident when talking to your physician about cannabis. “Wanting to feel well is nothing to be ashamed about,” he tells Verywell.  

Medical cannabis is an acceptable treatment method and worth considering for those with a qualifying condition, especially for those who have exhausted other options or who do not wish to take opioids. “If you are not met with support and education, I would suggest finding a different medical provider who can help you,” he adds.

Consider the Source

Word of mouth is how many come to consider medical cannabis, Khare says. While personal anecdotes can be convincing, it’s important to consider the source and do your own research, too. Khare says dispensaries are a good source of information, and he recommends searching Google Scholar’s thousands of cannabinoid studies.

But it’s still a good idea to consult a medical professional who can help translate research findings, explain biological processes, and understands your health. “We strongly encourage patients who qualify to simply ask our team,” Khare says. “We are always open to having a conversation.”

Don’t Fear Getting ‘High’

One of the top concerns healthcare providers hear is the fear of getting high. “Most think
the ‘high’ will lead to psychosis or hallucinations, and that is rare,” Theisen says.

However, she says people can feel euphoric effects, and those can be beneficial for those who are dealing with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.

Be Intentional About Cannabis Consumption

Marijuana is still a drug, whether taken for medical purposes to help someone with nausea from chemotherapy or taken for adult-use. “It’s all about intention,” Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, a physician specializing in integrative medicine in Glenview, Illinois, tells Verywell.

Therefore, Temple says it’s important to have a thorough discussion with your doctor and possibly a cannabis concierge or dispensary budtender to make sure you are using cannabis correctly, as it can be an abused substance.

Learn About the Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was first discovered in the 1990s and has since been found to play a role in a number of key bodily functions. The ECS is comprised of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and endocannabinoid and cannabinoid enzymes that break down naturally occurring cannabis-like substances in the body.

Among other functions, the ECS helps regulate:

  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Inflammation
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Reproduction/fertility
  • Motor control
  • Pain
  • Pleasure

“Cannabis can help with hundreds of conditions because of that system,” Theisen says. “I wish [patients] wanted to know more about the science behind cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.”

Purchase Cannabis From a State-Approved Dispensary

State cannabis programs are highly regulated. This ensures the integrity of the cannabis product, as the cultivator and dispensary have to adhere to strict standards.

When cannabis was an entirely illegal substance, there wasn’t any oversight to guarantee the product’s safety. Temple says if you are going to consume cannabis, go straight to the source. “Get it from a legal dispensary in your state so that you know it's not tainted with something illicit,” she says.

Go Low and Slow

Theisen, Khare, and Temple all recommend you start by consuming a minimal amount of cannabis and allow yourself ample time to feel any effects before increasing your dosage. “We've said that about many medicines, but going low and slow will be the best approach to this because if you go too high, well, you get high,” Temple says.

One of the best pieces of advice she has for patients who are trying is to never finish the whole candy bar or joint in one sitting. Be mindful of the serving size or dosage on the packaging but ultimately follow the guidance you received from your healthcare provider, cannabis concierge, or budtender.

Start With What You’re Comfortable With

Temple and Theisen say for first-time users, they usually recommend topicals, tinctures, and edibles because they are easier to control and administer. Topicals are lotions, creams, or oils that are applied and absorbed through the skin.

Tinctures come in bottles with droppers, similar to liquid medicines or face serums. With tinctures, cannabis is administered through a dropper that offers great precision under the tongue and is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Edibles are chewed, digested, and absorbed like other foods, so it takes a while before any effects are felt. “Edibles just feel more familiar to people,” Temple says. “It’s a chocolate. It’s a gummy. That seems to work best for my older patients who are nervous because they can take a candy.”

Keep Track of What You’ve Tried

The choices for cannabis products can be overwhelming. There are different consumption methods (like vaping, smoking, topicals, edibles, tinctures, dabbing, etc.) and there are numerous flavors or strains.

Khare advises patients to keep a journal so they can record how everything they try makes them feel. “Were you uplifted or groggy? Did you feel the effects right away or not for an hour or more later?” he says. “It’s also helpful to think about the root of your symptom and not the symptom itself. This allows you to dive in at the core of the problem and can cut exploration time significantly.”

Give Cannabis Time

You can feel the effects of cannabis for several hours. As with any new drug, it’s a good idea to block out time to see how your body will react. That means no driving, no work, and refraining from being the sole caretaker of another person.

One comfort with cannabis is that unlike opioids, overdosing on cannabis won’t kill you. “You can feel severely ill and go to the ER, but eventually it should wear off,” Temple says, adding that you can stay at the emergency room for observation until you’re feeling better, but you don’t necessarily need to be given medication.

Remember Attitudes Are Changing

When it feels like change isn’t happening—especially if marijuana isn’t legal in your state—it can be helpful to pause for perspective. Marijuana opposition has had decades to develop, fueled by prohibitionist policies and the declaration of a War on Drugs.

In less than 30 years, cannabis has gone from illegal in all states to legal in 35 states. As the law changes, so too will individual minds and society at large about marijuana. “I think people are concerned about the stigma,” Khare says. “However, we are making progress, and the mind of the public is beginning to change.”

The opioid epidemic, a focus on wellness, the self-care movement, and a global pandemic is helping to change opinions about marijuana that, backed by scientific research, are showing the benefits of the cannabis plant.

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  1. Fertig N., Zhang M. 1 in 3 Americans Now Lives in a State Where Recreational Marijuana is LegalPolitico. Updated November 4, 2020.