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While it may be simple for some Canadians, talking to a physician about cannabis use can be difficult for those inexperienced in bringing up this topic to health care professionals. Knowing the right questions to ask can be critical to helping your physician understand your symptoms and determining if you should be prescribed a cannabis product.

Data from Health Canada paints a rosy picture for patients seeking doctors who are open to prescribing cannabis to their patients: By March 2018, 13,359 health care practitioners had provided a medical document for a client who registered with a cannabis producer, up from 9,700 six months prior.1

As more physicians pivot their attention to how cannabis can work for ill patients, Canadians need help to navigate this new space, even if they’ve tried cannabis in a non-medicinal context.

First, patients should research the basics about cannabis, from its many cannabinoids to ingestion methods to side effects. Finding out how your ailment interacts with cannabis is quite doable now thanks to the internet and the many academic journal search engines available, such as SSRN.com. Typing in “chronic pain” and “cannabis” may yield some recent studies that can answer some initial questions you might have.

Second, ask your doctor many questions. Those queries can include: Will medical cannabis interact with any of my other medications? Any recommendations on how to consume my cannabis? Which side-effects can I expect? Do you know of any studies relevant to cannabis affecting my ailment?

The more you ask, the more you can learn about cannabis’ relationship to your ailment, and the clearer a picture you’ll get on the medical pros and cons of being prescribed the drug.

Also, be open with your physician about previous cannabis use, if relevant. Did it agree with you? Were you able to function while using cannabis? How did you feel the next day?

In an interview from Langley, B.C., Fonda Betts, president and CEO of Greenleaf Medical Clinic, cautions that patients should also realize that for many physicians. “Cannabis isn’t front-line treatment.” What she means is that cannabis isn’t the first thing a physician will prescribe to patients. “You need to have tried other medications, more traditional ones, before being authorized to use cannabis medically.”2

Patients should be aware of what information physicians include with prescriptions, Betts says. For example, they should include dosing guidelines so patients can learn how to properly dose based on what they try during their initial week of using cannabis. After all, many new cannabis patients won’t understand what exactly a half-gram vaping session can provide compared to a gram’s worth.

Then there’s the issue of some patients feeling anxious about suggesting cannabis in the doctor’s office: What if the physician doesn’t believe cannabis is an effective treatment, no matter the evidence you provide? What if this doctor is close-minded to any possibility that cannabis can be a useful medicine that is worth trying?

Toronto physician Dr. Vahid Salimpour reminds patients, “That their well-being is what matters most, and if their doctor is hesitant, judgmental, or unsure about medical cannabis, patients may consider getting a second opinion from a physician who will listen to their concerns and not just focus on taboos and myths.”3

  1. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/licensed-producers/market-data.html
  2. Via interview conducted Aug 24, 2018.
  3. Via interview conducted Aug. 28, 2018.

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