CANNABIS CULTURE – To put this as simply and succinctly as possible: doctors cannot prescribe cannabis; they can only recommend it. This is because cannabis is federally illegal, and any doctor caught prescribing it will have their license to practice ripped up and put in prison.
Doctors also cannot tell a patient where to get cannabis, how much they can take or make any recommendation as to what kind of marijuana strain or product might be best for them and their condition.
To rub salt into the wound, dispensaries cannot have any on-site doctors or connections to any healthcare providers in their local communities – something which ought to be par for the course for something that is deemed “medical”. Doctors also cannot own medical marijuana dispensaries, and neither can they be involved in the cultivation of cannabis in any way, shape or form. Indeed, it could be simpler for a politician opposed to marijuana legalization to get into the cannabis industry than it is for a doctor who supports legalization!
So, what can doctors do when it comes to medical marijuana? Well, they can confirm you have a condition that medical marijuana may be of use for. They can sign the recommendation letter and help their patients get their medical marijuana card and growers recommendation card. Doctors can also refer to research, any scientific data out there at the moment and anecdotal reports from other patients. A doctor cannot say, “Cannabis will definitely help you and your condition.” Some doctors will go as far as showing you some scientific research and testimonials from other patients, but any definitive statements are a no-no. A doctor can only say, “Cannabis/medical marijuana may help you for certain conditions.”
Getting a recommendation letter and medical marijuana card is also rather more difficult in some states than in others. Getting an MMJ card is not that difficult in California or Colorado, but getting one in another, more restrictive state could take months. In California, the following can qualify you for a recommendation and medical card:
- Cancer, as well as the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Chronic Pain
- Migraine Headaches
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Any chronic condition or persistent medical symptom that limits a person from living their life to the full, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Many states place far bigger restrictions on who qualifies for a medical marijuana recommendation and card. Other states list a higher number of specific conditions (e.g. lupus, Parkinson’s disease (PD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) that can qualify a patient, but don’t necessarily have the same sort of “Any chronic condition …” workaround. This means that, yes, a person with PTSD or depression can get an MMJ card in California, if the patient can prove that their condition has a significantly detrimental effect upon their life.
There is another reason why many doctor would refrain from making a marijuana “prescription”, other than it being illegal, and it is a scientific and ethical one rather than legal one: there just isn’t enough scientific evidence proving that marijuana is useful for various conditions. Sure, there’s lots of patient testimonials, studies on rodents, in vitro and in vivo experiments, and open trial experiments.
However, what there is not so much of are the double-blind experiments, pilot studies, studies with a large sample size, and tests for safety, risks and benefits, best use protocols, and device testing. There are also few time-series studies and genetic studies. Yes, there are some – for example, from GW Pharmaceuticals – but there aren’t nearly enough for doctors to say “Cannabis is definitely useful for x condition.”
Many doctors are also wary of making any hard-and-fast claims about marijuana’s medical uses, especially as so little is known about it. The cannabis plant has a lot of moving parts, including a load of cannabinoids and terpenoids that all work in tandem with one another (the “entourage effect”). We have only just begun to scratch the surface on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system (ECS), so it’s no wonder that many doctors and scientists are reluctant to make any big claims for now – it’s a new, cutting-edge area of science, and one not many people know much about yet. There is also the possibility of cannabis having cross-reactions and interfering with other drugs and medications, which could prove to be a problem if those drugs and medications are saving someone’s life.
Sadly, it’ll remain this way until cannabis is legalized on a federal level, or at least removed from schedule I and allowed to be researched properly and objectively. Let’s hope common sense sees the light.