Talking To Your Doctor About Medical Cannabis

So how do you start that conversation about medical cannabis with your physician or medical provider in a way that sets the stage for an open, meaningful exchange? And, better yet, how can a person who is facing unresolved pain or distress from a debilitating health condition that has not been helped by conventional medication ensure that the conversation addresses both their preferences and needs?

It’s ok to be blunt about the matter at hand. There is nothing wrong with or illegal about discussing medical cannabis with your doctor. Federal courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects doctors in discussing medical cannabis and recommending it to their patients. Doctors are accustomed to patients bringing ideas to them about treatment options and preferences, and cannabis therapeutics should be no different.

For the medical cannabis program in the state of New Mexico, the program has almost 40,000 participants and over 2,200 different doctors and medical providers have recommended participants into the current program. So there are plenty of medical providers that one can go to and use health insurance coverage for the evaluation and recommendation for medical cannabis compared to the out of pocket cost with a provider specializing in medical cannabis only (that can be as much as $350 in New Mexico.)


You And Your Physicians Are Protected
In 2002, the case of Conant v. Walters, in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of protecting patients and physicians’ right to seek and share medical information about therapeutic Cannabis. Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder stated the following in a written opinion:
The order enjoins the federal government from either revoking a physician’s license to prescribe controlled substances or conducting an investigation of a physician that might lead to such revocation, where the basis for the government’s action is solely the physician’s professional “recommendation” of the use of medical marijuana.

Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski concurred, adding, “It is well established that the right to hear — the right to receive information — is no less protected by the First Amendment than the right to speak.”

According to Americans For Safe Access, in a 2004 the Supreme Court ruled in Conant v. Walters, that doctors may legally recommend cannabis to their patients. Doctors do not need to be in a state with medical cannabis laws to do so. However, each state with medical cannabis laws requires different mechanisms to put recommendations in writing so that the patient may legally access cannabis. Doctors cannot prescribe cannabis or help patients obtain the cannabis itself.

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Talking to Your Doctor
Mosby’s Medical Dictionary states that “medical treatment” means; the management and care of a patient to combat disease or disorder. Medical treatment includes: Using prescription medications, or use of a non-prescription drug at prescription strength; and or treatment of disease by hygienic and pharmacologic remedies, as distinguished from invasive surgical procedures. Treatment may be pharmacologic, using drugs; surgical, involving operative procedures; or supportive, building the patient's strength. It may be specific for the disorder, or symptomatic to relieve symptoms without effecting a cure.(Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 9th edition.)

What is a chronic medical condition?
A chronic disease is one lasting 3 months or more, by the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Chronic diseases generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear. Harvard Medical Dictionary defines chronic as: Any condition that lasts a long time or recurs over time; chronic pain as: Pain that persists after an injury has healed or a disease is over; and chronic pain syndrome as : Long-term, severe pain that doesn't spring from an injury or illness, that interferes with daily life, and is often accompanied by other problems, such as depression, irritability, and anxiety.
What is the meaning of debilitating?
Something that's debilitating seriously affects someone or something's strength or ability to carry on with regular activities, like a debilitating illness. Debilitating comes from the Latin word debilis, meaning "weak." That's why you'll often see the adjective used to describe illness, despite the negative reference.

Your doctor may be unfamiliar with medical cannabis and hesitant to recommend it, so bring documentation to explain the science and support your experience. Take time to prepare before your appointment, write out some notes to bring and your talking points. Be resourceful and share your research. Have you discovered clinical studies online or come across other research to support your argument for wanting to try medical cannabis? Being proactive in looking for information demonstrates your commitment to having a productive and informed discussion as well as taking control over your own health. And talking to your doctor may open the doors for others who see that physician thus helping them in getting their medical cannabis card.

Ultimately, physicians make decisions based on evidence and common sense, so be prepared to help them understand what you have learned and how you feel. Especially if conventional methods that come in form of a pill from America’s massive pharmaceuticals industry is causing you more problems than relief, as many pills and their side effects require another pill to be prescribed due to those negative side effects.


A primary care physician with an understanding of your medical history is the best person to consult first about medical cannabis. However, we understand that not everyone has a regular doctor, and many physicians remain unfamiliar with the medical uses of cannabis or are afraid of getting in trouble. In addition, some patients are concerned with their current health insurance company finding out about their use of medical cannabis. For these and other reasons, some patients consult one of the many doctors with a specialty practice in medical cannabis. No matter what doctor you see, here are some pointers:

Understand your state requirements and ask for a written recommendation. Bring copies of required paperwork for your state or a sample doctor's recommendation from the Medical Professionals section of this website.

Be prepared to tell your doctor specifically what condition or symptoms you treat with cannabis therapeutics. If you have medical records related to the condition or symptoms, bring them. Honestly describe how long you've had the problem, when you began treating with cannabis, the amount of cannabis you use, how often, and by what delivery method.  Keeping a medical cannabis wellness journal is something that can be very useful for this process and for seeing how medical cannabis will improve your overall health.

Be honest; share your experience. Be prepared to tell your doctor how you feel and the effects of the medications you have tried. Let him/her know what's worked and what's not and why you think medical cannabis might be a possible solution. If you've tried cannabis and found it effective in alleviating your symptoms, let them know. If accessing a safe, standardized, legal supply of medical cannabis is important to you, and you are concerned about the potential risks of illegal access or poor quality product, ask for their support to join your state’s medical cannabis program.

If your regular doctor will not issue a recommendation, you may choose to visit a physician who is a medical cannabis specialist.

What To Do If Your Regular Doctor Will Not Issue a Recommendation?
There are a number of specialty physicians and clinics available for consultations in states with medical cannabis laws. Before seeing a medical cannabis specialist, patients should already have medical records of diagnosis and treatment or a physician referral. Be aware that:

You should take your medical records with you to the appointment.

It generally costs $100 or more to see a medical cannabis specialist. (Paying for a consultation does not guarantee you a recommendation or future services either.) Time with the doctor and quality of care can vary among medical cannabis specialists too - it’s more of a one time visit for your evaluation to see if you qualify for the medical cannabis card.

There are alternatives to smoked medical cannabis:

Often the biggest objection health care providers have to medical cannabis is the fact it is commonly smoked.

Alternatives to smoking include:
Capsules — Cannabis may be ground into a powder and placed into capsules for internal consumption.
Vaporization — A device that heats the plant material hot enough to release its therapeutic elements but not hot enough to burn.
Food & Drink — Cannabis can be cooked into foods and added to beverages. Butter and flour made from cannabis are also popular.
Tincture— Vegetable oil based medical marijuana tinctures may be applied to the skin or mucus membranes.
Suppository — Medical cannabis can even be made into suppositories.

Honest conversations between doctors and patients are crucial in overcoming the barriers to real and effective healthcare solutions. It's time to replace the fear, stigma and misinformation too often associated with medical cannabis with science, reason and compassion. It all starts with a conversation.


Resources For You And Your Medical Provider:
“How to Qualify for Medical Cannabis in New Mexico”

“New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program Forms & Documents”

“Recommending Medical Cannabis In New Mexico: A Resource For Medical Professional”

“Track And Optimize Your Medical Cannabis-
A Medical Cannabis Wellness Journal”

Americans For Safe Access  has created a series of educational booklets for this very reason. Their Condition-based Booklets and other research can be found in the publications section of the website.

For New Mexico and ALL other States: Your doctor may not have an understanding of the the local laws either. You may also consider bringing them relevant forms and website links for your state. These forms and resources can are located in our "State by State: Recommending Cannabis" section for medical professionals.

“Medical Cannabis Advisory Board Recommendations Empower Medical Cannabis Community”

About Americans for Safe Access
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.

ASA was founded in 2002, by medical cannabis patient Steph Sherer, as a vehicle for patients to advocate for the acceptance of cannabis as medicine. With over 100,000 active members in all 50 states, ASA is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political, social and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, research, grassroots empowerment, advocacy and services for patients, governments, medical professionals, and medical cannabis providers.

Ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis means:

*International, federal and state laws and regulations recognized cannabis as a legal medicine.
*Medical professionals recommend medical cannabis options as a frontline treatment option or an adjunct therapy.
*Patients and their caregivers have the information they need to make educated choices about medical cannabis therapies.
*Patients and medical professionals can incorporate a diverse group of products and delivery methods to create required personalized treatment regimen.
*Patients can trust labels on products and that medicines are free of pesticides and contaminants.
*Medical cannabis treatments are covered by insurance.

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