Currently, 33 states in the US have written medical cannabis programs into law. One by one, state governments are beginning to recognize the importance of providing safe access to medical cannabis. If you’re considering cannabis as an option for the first time, you’re not alone.
But for many of us, walking into a cannabis clinic can feel intimidating. Complicated qualifying conditions, state fees, and dizzying paperwork can quickly become a source of stress when you’re in pain. The good news is that with a little preparation and education, you can walk into your doctor’s appointment feeling confident and prepared.
If you’re a new patient about to go to the pot doc for the first time, read on for three helpful tips to help you get through the process with ease.
1. Know your options, know your needs.
A visit to the cannabis doctor should be no different than visiting any other type of physician. Every doctor in the cannabis space has their own unique background, set of motivations, and style of care – their experience may be in general practice, or they may have a specific focus, like Orthopedic or Chiropractic medicine. While specific state requirements vary, all cannabis doctors must be licensed and qualified to practice medicine in their state. It is a necessity of their profession to be well-versed in emerging cannabis science, proven applications and side effects, and available products in your area. Failure of a doctor to keep abreast of changing laws and research puts her patients at risk.
Likewise, the atmosphere of each clinic is different. Some are busy hubs with long wait times crowded with eager patients; Others are small, intimate offices with no advertisement on their doors and a vast library of resources lining the walls; Others still are speedy pop-up services offered under tents at cancer walks or in side rooms of conference centers after public lectures or events. Appointment availability, cost, professionalism, and quality of care may vary wildly between services – but quantifying your specific needs as a patient will help you choose the right one.
If, for example, you’re an eager first-timer and need a thorough education on cannabis use, make sure your clinic values patient education, offers long appointment times, and sends you home with educational handouts and resources to help get you started. However, if you’re a seasoned cannabis user who simply wants a medical card to keep yourself safe from legal risk, you may do fine with a quicker, more streamlined style of service.
In all cases, be sure to research your options beforehand. Ask local dispensaries and community members for their favorites, utilize websites like Networkjane.com for their reviews and patient experiences, and call ahead to get a feel for what your clinic offers.
Pro tip: Never underestimate the power of your own solid logic. In the same way you’d likely not buy a car from a shady salesman who gave you the creeps, it’s important you feel comfortable with the level of experience and professionalism your cannabis doctor provides. If you find yourself educating your cannabis educator, consider a different option!
2. Come Prepared.
Legal states vary in their documentation requirements and accepted qualifying conditions, so it’s important to do a little research on your state’s government website before you begin. When you make your appointment, be sure to ask what documents to bring. In some cases, you may need nothing more than your ID. In others, medical records or proof of residence may be required. Specific forms of payment may also be required to comply with requirements of the state or clinic protocol. Be sure to come early with plenty of time to fill out paperwork and ask questions.
Knowing your qualifying condition is also important. If you’re concerned your condition won’t be eligible under your state’s laws, don’t fret – cannabis has a myriad of applications, and often patients don’t realize that things like migraine headaches, digestion issues from stress or sleep problems can be nestled under broader qualifiers, like chronic pain. A good cannabis doctor will assist you with concerns over criteria for qualification, and many offer refunds for patients who don’t make the cut. When in doubt, call your clinic to ask their thoughts or visit their website, which may have a list of helpful commonly-asked questions.
After your appointment, you’ll need to send your doctor’s recommendation, a copy of your ID, and any other required documents to your state’s medical marijuana division to complete the process. Be aware that the paperwork required and the process of sending it may be confusing and have very strict guidelines. In Colorado’s early legal cannabis days, for example, it was common for paperwork to be denied for use of colored ink, crossing out a miswrite, or mistaking the word “County” for “Country.” Make sure to read the fine print – and regardless of where your state’s program falls on the scale of one to tricky, it’s never bad to have an experienced person’s guidance. If paperwork is denied by the state for even a minor mistake, it may circulate for days or weeks before being processed. Relinquishing this responsibility to an experienced professional at your doctor’s office can expedite the process of a correction – and provide much-needed ease to a patient in need.
Pro tip: Oftentimes, cannabis clinics will assist you with the process of gathering your documents, filling out your paperwork, and sending it to the state in the correct way. I highly recommend new patients invest in these services to prevent the risk of delayed access to medicine.
3. Leave your fears at home.
Maybe it’s due to Cannabis’ lingering stigma, but the collective voice of our nation’s conservative grandmother still whispers disapproval in our ear. Cultural norms and reasonable consumption laws have not yet caught up to the fast pace of cannabis’ skyrocketing popularity and industry growth. The territory line between two states may represent the difference between a $100 fine and a twenty-year prison sentence. Our world is changing quickly – and for many reasons, it is not uncommon for patients to feel a little uneasy when crossing the threshold of the doctor’s office. Coming out of the proverbial cannabis closet represents a risk for many of us, with ramifications spanning broadly from social to legal to familial territory. The threat of losing a job, gun ownership privileges, or the respect of family and community can weigh heavily on a patient’s mind.
Thankfully, there is one place you never have to be afraid: the cannabis doctor’s office. Contrary to common concern, it is not of benefit for a physician to deny you access to medical cannabis unless you pose a potential threat to their license or yourself. The vast majority of cannabis doctors are experienced physicians with a passion for helping patients find access to alternative pain management. They are not there to judge or belittle you – they are there to provide you information, evaluate your needs, and help you find relief. It is also worth noting that state medical paperwork is protected under HIPPA law, and anything you disclose to your cannabis doctor is considered private information. Rest easy knowing that you can be fully honest with your doctor about your previous or current experiences with cannabis, so they can guide you in the right direction.
Pro tip: While it’s uncommon for a cannabis doctor to deny a patient, there are certain circumstances that warrant or even require it. Patients who appear to be heavily inebriated, overly aggressive, or otherwise mentally unable to advocate for themselves are likely to be denied. Check your state or local clinic website for more information.