As legalization of cannabis expands across the United States and federal prohibition dwindles to an eventual end, patients are seeking symptom improvement with the use of cannabis in ever-increasing rates. No longer is cannabis a plant that is relegated to the counter culture it once was. The stigma is starting to dissipate and people are seeing the value in medicating with plant-based medicine in greater numbers. In fact, people from across the lifespan have turned to cannabis therapy in an effort to improve quality of life, relieve symptoms of chronic illness, and in some cases, manage disease states better than the treatment options available through conventional health services. The unfortunate reality for patients is that they often find themselves left to explore the use of cannabis on their own through trial and error which is costly, time-consuming, and not without risk. Therefore, guidance from qualified health providers is not only indicated for patients who benefit from cannabis therapy, it is required.
Why doesn’t my health provider know anything about cannabis?
Recent data suggests that only 9% of medical schools have anything regarding medical cannabis listed in their curriculum, and it’s only recently that professional medical societies and associations have begun to provide education units in an effort to bridge this gap.
In the meantime, this knowledge deficit perpetuates a number of issues for patients simply seeking medical advice from their trusted health providers. Too often, patients who want to use cannabis report that their questions about cannabis are outright dismissed and sometimes ridiculed. And in subjectively worst case scenarios, their health providers exploit any mention of cannabis to springboard into a discussion of substance abuse. Simply put, these interactions are not helpful.
Your health provider faces challenges too.
Health providers are inundated with patients, their case loads are extensive (death by documentation anyone?), and their employers may enforce strict policies that quite sadly prevent them from providing care that you, their patient, deserve, and they, the professional who dreamed of saving and improving lives, should be able to provide without issue.
In Utopia, this would occur day in, day out. But if you’ve looked around lately, we are far from Utopia in the health care industry where profits are the priority and moral injury among health providers is normalized. (A digression for another article perhaps?)
Also, there is a general fear among health providers that advocating for cannabis, a federally illicit substance, may cause medical facilities to lose federal funding. Unfortunately, this rough edge may mean that advocating for cannabis can cost a health provider their job.
So what’s the solution? How do I get the help I need from a health provider despite these challenges?
Rescheduling or descheduling cannabis, lifting federal prohibition, and allowing the medical and science communities to study cannabis in the manner in which it needs to be studied for the greater good of human beings everywhere will ultimately resolve these problems over time. But for now, here are some steps you can take to help your provider help you meet your health goals.
- Choose the right provider. Health providers who work outside of the medical system exist. Their service offerings may extend far beyond what is offered inside of conventional medical offices. There are many highly qualified health providers in the spectrum of integrative medicine, holistic health, and complementary care fields who understand the therapeutic value of cannabis as well as the endocannabinoid system. They may even provide medical cannabis certifications and recommendations. Seek these health providers out. Not only can they help you meet your goals, they may be able to help you advocate for yourself in conventional medical settings. The only drawback is that these providers may not accept health insurance. Your health is invaluable and worth the investment. This being said, ask if they work on a sliding scale if you need financial assistance, the answer may pleasantly surprise you.
- Do your own research. There is a plethora of information regarding cannabis therapy, the endocannabinoid system, health conditions, you name it — it’s available on the Interwebs. Unfortunately sifting through all of the information is overwhelming, and understanding whether or not a resource is quality or junk is not always easy to ascertain. Thankfully, there are websites like this one, ProjectCBD.org, and Healer.com for easy to digest and understand articles, videos, and other educational materials about all things cannabis and health. You could even bring some of these materials to your next health provider consultation. Health providers like evidence and both of these web places provide evidence that they value. Don’t forget to bring an article about the Endocannabinoid System!
- Tell your provider how cannabis has helped you. Health providers tend to want their patients to feel better, they want to see symptoms resolve, and quality of life to improve. If you use cannabis and you are faced with a provider who is less than knowledgeable and therefore rejects cannabis use, plant some seeds. They may be amenable to learning a little bit about why and how cannabis helps you. If they’re not, move on to a health provider who is willing to listen. You have the right to feel better, to heal, and to work with health providers who are committed to helping you do so.