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How To Talk To Your Doctor About Cannabis

Talking about medical cannabis with your practitioner can feel overwhelming, but it’s an important conversation to have if you want to incorporate it into your routine. If you’re not sure what to say, or you’re nervous about any potential fallout, our guide can help prepare you to broach the subject during your next appointment. 

How to initiate conversations about medical cannabis with your doctor

Dr. Brooke Worster consulting a patient

According to Ethos Cannabis Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Brooke Worster, you should first identify the way you want to frame the topic.

“Patients often feel a power imbalance with their medical practitioners, like they can’t make suggestions or bring up something their doctor doesn’t bring up first,” Worster shared. “But keeping the subject of cannabis in a black box and not talking about it won’t benefit anyone, doctor or patient.”

According to William Pace, MD, with Infectious Disease Specialists, P.C., Southampton, PA, approaching the conversation with honesty is important for physicians who are working to help find the best solutions for your symptoms.

“Be open and honest with your doctor, because it allows us to do a better job at managing your condition,” Pace said. “Cannabis is no different than talking about hypertension with your doctor.”

If you’re not sure where to start, or if you feel uneasy asking direct questions about cannabis, Worster recommends asking abstract questions that seem less personal.

“You may feel ‘safer’ talking about cannabis in a way that doesn’t apply directly to your situation, instead of asking outright if you can try cannabis,” Worster said. “Bringing your doctor into a general conversation can help ease your discomfort.”

Worster recommends the following questions as a starting point:

  • “I’m interested in medical cannabis. What do you know about it?”
  • “What other therapies can help me with my condition?”
  • “I read that cannabis can help me with my condition. What have you heard?”

Worster also recommends bringing a friend or family member who has experience with cannabis with you to your appointment.

“It’s perfectly OK to bring someone with you who can help advocate for your needs,” Worster said. “Two sets of ears are better than one to listen to, process, and respond to what your doctor says.”

What won’t happen when you talk to your doctor about cannabis

Worster said that fear is the biggest barrier many patients have when it comes to discussing medical cannabis with their doctor. It’s not unreasonable: after decades of Prohibition, you may be used to hiding your cannabis consumption or may fear legal repercussions after bringing it up with an authority figure. Worster said that many of these fears, while understandable, are unfounded.

According to Worster, three of the biggest concerns patients have are:

  • Getting arrested. Even if you live in a state where it’s not legal, your medical practitioner won’t tell the police that you asked about cannabis. 
  • Getting fired. Your medical history stays private. A practitioner won’t share with your employer that you asked about cannabis.
  • Being judged. It can be a hard thing to believe you won’t be judged by your doctor, but Worster reassures patients that doctors have heard and seen it all.

What should you do if your doctor says no?

There are a few reasons why your medical practitioner may say that cannabis isn’t right for you. Sometimes, it’s due to their own emerging knowledge, or dearth of knowledge, on how medical cannabis can help. Other times, there are concerns that cannabis can adversely affect any medical conditions you may have or interact with medication. However, if you don’t ask for the “why” behind the no, you won’t be able to advance the discussion.

“Don’t let a ‘no’ be the end of the conversation – be curious and find out more,” Worster said. “We all bring our biases to the table, and it may be that they have a skewed perspective that doesn’t have a good medical basis for your situation.”

You may want to look for a practitioner who specializes in medical cannabis certifications if your doctor says no, but Worster said that it’s important to “directly connect cannabis to your primary medical care.”

“There may be a complication, a drug interaction, or a change in your condition, and your doctor needs to know as much as possible to make the best decisions for your health,” Worster said. “It’s best to try to work with your current physician first for that reason. But if you really get nowhere – and that’s hopefully in the minority of cases – then you may need to find someone else to recommend medical cannabis for you.”

Worster recommends asking the following questions if you’re told that cannabis is not right for you:

  • What are your thoughts on medical cannabis in general?
  • Will consuming cannabis adversely impact my health or my condition?
  • Can you explain why you think this is not the right fit for me? 

In cases where your doctor doesn’t know enough about medical cannabis to decide, Worster recommends directing them to reliable and authoritative resources, such as the state’s Department of Health website or an organization like Americans for Safe Access.

Pace adds that your physician may be able to recommend you to a medical practitioner who can help.

“Our job is to get you in the hands of someone who knows about cannabis, so if patients don’t get the answer they want, hopefully, their physician can point them in the right direction,” said Pace. 

Normalization and open communication: Keys to a productive conversation

The stigma that still surrounds cannabis may make it difficult to bring it up at your next appointment, but Worster said that simply having a conversation is part of the growing, necessary movement to normalize cannabis consumption.

“The more patients ask their doctors and make it part of the dialogue, the less stigma there is around it,” Worster said. 

No matter the subject, Worster said, a healthy and successful doctor-patient relationship comes down to communication and trust. 

“It’s really important to feel comfortable talking to your physician about anything that may be impacting you physically and emotionally, not just cannabis,” Worster said. “Medical professionals need this information so they can best provide medical care. If you don’t have that connection with your physician, that’s a big deal, and it can affect positive health outcomes.”

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