How to Ask Your Doctor About Medical Marijuana

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

If you are considering medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for your chronic pain or other medical issues, you might be uncomfortable about approaching your doctor.

There are so many stories circulating about patients being judged by their doctor or being labeled a “drug seeker” if they ask about marijuana, that many have chosen not to engage in a conversation they really wish to have.  

So, what can you do to make this as comfortable as possible?

First, take the time to understand your state’s medical marijuana law. Over half the states have now legalized medical marijuana, but the rules are different for doctors and patients in each state. Click here to see a summary of medical marijuana laws in all 28 states and Washington DC.

Here in Rhode Island, residents can approach any doctor -- not only in Rhode Island -- but in the adjacent states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. If you have no success with the doctors that treat you, then we have a few locations in Rhode Island that you can turn to. These specialty doctors evaluate your medical issues and can sign you on.  

The one negative for using these facilities is that there is a fee that must be paid upfront and you must return yearly to confirm your continued need for medical marijuana. A regular doctor’s appointment only means a co-pay, depending on your insurance.

Second, you want to approach a doctor you believe might be the most open to considering marijuana. How do you figure that out?

Some states require doctors to take a marijuana course before being allowed to sign for someone. Check and see if your doctor is on that list. If they are not, ask your state health department for a list of qualified doctors you can turn to. You can also ask other patients already in the program what success they had with your doctor or see if they know another doctor in the area who would be better. 

If you think your doctor might be open to this discussion, consider calling their office in advance and sound out where the doctor stands on marijuana before going in. If it sounds hopeless, then turn to a different doctor that treats you.

If your state has set up distribution centers or marijuana dispensaries, they may also be able to guide you to a doctor willing to sign you on, if you have no luck with your own personal doctors.

Third, when you finally approach the doctor, come to the appointment with some knowledge to share. Be ready to educate them. Google your health condition and medical marijuana to see if cannabis has been used to treat it. Feel free to use our website to download articles about the successful use of marijuana with your condition.

Dr. Stephen Corn has a wonderful website for doctors called “The Answer Page” where they can turn to for education on this topic and also submit questions they might have. I would encourage you to share the link with your doctor.

Be sure to share with your doctor what medications you have already tried to help cope with your condition. Explain why they have not worked for you. Remind them that they are not writing a script or prescription for marijuana, but simply confirming you have one of your state’s qualifying conditions for it.

Share with the doctor that you don’t expect them to guide you in how to administer marijuana, and that you will be educated at the dispensary or by a caregiver.

I know it feels intimidating to consider asking your doctor to support you, but if this is a possible solution for your life, take the time to prepare for the meeting and go for it.

There are risks involved with using marijuana without telling your doctor. They could be caught by surprise and discharge you if marijuana unexpectedly shows up in a drug test. That’s happened to some patients, even though the CDC specifically warns that “clinicians should not dismiss patients from care based on a urine drug test result because this could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety.”

I have turned my life around with a simple teaspoon of a marijuana-based oil at night -- and had to be convinced by my own doctor to give it a try! Once I realized what this was doing for my quality of life, I had to share my success with others.  I hope that others may find this natural and safe option to be successful for them too.   

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.