Thinking About Marijuana as Medicine? Where to Start

The prospect of marijuana as medicine is still a relatively new concept to mainstream America.  How do you get a marijuana prescription, anyway?  That’s the million dollar question.  It’s a question cannabis industry professionals are no doubt asked at parties, in coffee shops and, discreetly, by other parents on the soccer field sidelines.

But here’s the thing: marijuana is not prescribed and filled at a pharmacy like antibiotics or other painkillers.  So where do you start then?

Usually you get a prescription and you drop it at a pharmacy to be filled.  Although often used as medicine, this is not the case with marijuana.  Marijuana is, at the federal level, a schedule 1 drug.  That’s right, the DEA still considers marijuana to be in “the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”  At the state level, however, legislation approved by voters and lawmakers has made it possible for adults over the age of 18 to grow and consume marijuana for personal, medicinal and, in some states, recreational use.  Because marijuana is still illegal nationally, however, pharmacies like, for example, Walgreens can’t touch the stuff.  These big pharmacies are registered and with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and must abide by the regulations posted by the agency.

So in states where it’s legal, doctors don’t really prescribe pot.  Doctors can, however, recommend marijuana as medicine.  And that’s what patients use in lieu of the more common prescription for medication.

Pain is the leading ailment cited by patients recommended marijuana, according to University of California Davis Medical Center’s Dr. Barth Wilsey.  Chronic pain conditions like nerve pain or glaucoma and diseases like cancer can cause debilitating pain.  Our bodies already produce chemicals naturally to affect pain and, for many, marijuana “can help make those natural chemicals work better.”  Those suffering from pain or other ailments like nausea, muscle spasms, seizure disorders, or anxiety can talk to their general practitioner about marijuana as medicine or search for qualified health care professionals that embrace marijuana as medicine in states where allowed.

Marijuana can be recommended by a doctor in states that allow it.  Patients can take medical recommendations, sometimes just called recs, to a local dispensary to purchase marijuana and – hopefully – to speak with a qualified dispensary technician about the strains that may be best suited to address their health and wellness concerns.

After receiving a doctor’s recommendation some states will also require that patients register for a Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

It’s important to know your local and state laws and general tone of acceptance around marijuana.  NORML.org has this interactive reference guide here.

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