Sometimes, the most intimidating part of becoming a medical cannabis patient isn’t the first trip to the dispensary, or even the first dose, but instead figuring out how to find a good medical marijuana doctor.
You may live in a place where billboards on bus benches and ads on the sidebar of your local news website blast pictures of the familiar green leaf and generic 1-800 numbers to call for your free consultation, or you may live in a place where you know there are medical cannabis programs, but you’ve never seen a wisp of an ad, have no idea where your local dispensaries are, and have never met a patient.
Beginning the journey can seem daunting, especially if you don’t have a primary doctor willing to talk to you about the process. Fortunately, there are many great resources to help you navigate becoming a medical cannabis patient. Below, discover how to easily start the process and ensure you’re finding the right physician for you.
3 steps for finding a medical marijuana doctor
Step 1: Check your state’s list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana
Every state has their own list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions, with some having a more restricted list than others. For example, some states permit medical cannabis for common issues like insomnia, while others reserve it only for severe diagnosis such as cancer or AIDS. Meanwhile, other states allow physicians to make a recommendation at their own discretion.
Check Leafly’s state-by-state guide to qualifying conditions to first make sure you qualify for medical cannabis in your state.
Step 2: Obtain your medical records
Your new cannabis doctor will need to have access to your medical records like any other physician. Once you find a cannabis physician, have your primary doctor fax over your records to their office before your appointment to make the consultation as seamless as possible.
Step 3: Find a medical marijuana doctor that’s right for you
You can begin by finding doctors in your area, with great resources like Leafly’s doctor locator tool. While this is a great place to start in seeing what options are available in your immediate area, there’s also the question of how to know you’re seeing a doctor that is right for you.
Many people don’t know what to expect when visiting a medical cannabis doctor for the first time, and what’s more, they don’t know what they are allowed to expect. If a doctor doesn’t do more than confirm they have a qualifying condition, write them a prescription, and send them to their local dispensary, is that enough? Should they expect more?
While the experience of visiting a cannabis doctor will vary state-to-state, it is not unreasonable no matter your location to desire a certain type of care from your doctor. We spoke with Dr. Dustin Sulak, a leading clinician in the field of cannabis medicine, about what to look for when searching for a cannabis doctor. His first piece of advice? Find a physician with a plan.
“My first question would be, does the doctor send most patients out with a written plan on what to do?” Dr. Sulak said. “What kind of dosage to start with, how to adjust that dosage over time, and what to look for? It should really be a written plan because it’s such a complex treatment.”
Dr. Sulak also believes cannabis physicians should hold themselves to certain practice standards. As a member of the board of directors for the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, he helped develop these standards for clinical encounters, clinical decision making, documentation, and more—the full list of which can be found here. These can be useful guidelines for a patient to decide if their cannabis doctor is providing them with the level of care they’d like to expect.
Dr. Sulak also had another piece of advice: consider searching for cannabis physicians with a background in integrative or holistic medicine.
“The cannabis paradigm is really different from conventional medicine,” Dr. Sulak said. “Doctors who have a background in integrative medicine or functional medicine are going to understand cannabis better [than those from more traditional backgrounds]. We’re used to complex patients that don’t respond to conventional treatment—[patients] that need a whole holistic perspective, and cannabis fits well in there.”
What to expect from your medical marijuana authorization
A medical cannabis recommendation from your doctor will allow you to receive your medical cannabis card. From there, you will need to visit a local dispensary to receive your medical marijuana. One question often asked is, will my physician recommend specific strains?
If a doctor is following up with patients, it shows interest in the patients wellbeing, as opposed to only reaching out when it's time for their patient to renew their card.
Lacie Wheeler works with physicians at a medical cannabis clinic in the panhandle of Florida. Wheeler says her clinic is education focused, and that physicians and staff both meet with local dispensaries a few times a month to ask questions, learn about new products, and attend conferences. She says this training is invaluable to helping patients who still feel unsure even after receiving their medical cannabis card.
“We have a lot of transfer patients that come to us solely for this reason alone,” Wheeler said. “They come in and say, ‘I have a card, but I don’t know what products to use,’ or ‘I wasn’t educated so I stopped using [cannabis] because I wasn’t sure what to do.’ Or even worse, they purchased a product that was too strong for them and this discouraged them from staying in the program entirely.”
Wheeler also stressed the importance of following up with patients, saying that her clinic will follow up with them throughout their recommendation period. “[We ask them which] products they are using, what’s working, what’s not, what they are treating—is it working for that? Have they recognized any other areas that cannabis has helped? We fine tune and keep working until we find what works for them.”
Dr. Sulak also believes that follow up is an indicator that one has found a good cannabis doctor, and says that if a doctor is following up with patients, it shows interest in the patients wellbeing, as opposed to only reaching out when it’s time for their patient to renew their card.
That said, Dr. Sulak also believes that doctors do not need to recommend specific strains to patients to be effective, and he makes a salient point. “Where I practice, my patients can shop in dozens of different [dispensaries], and I have no idea if the Blueberry in one store is the same as the Blueberry in the next.”
Dr. Sulak instead recommends that patients ask their budtenders which products are the top sellers for their particular symptom or condition, then buy a small amount of each one to try out.
“I think that doctors don’t have to recommend strains by a name, but they should be recommending specific delivery methods, dosage, dosages of the various cannabinoids, frequency, and what to look for in terms of benefits and in terms of adverse effects,” Dr. Sulak said.
You deserve a cannabis doctor who cares
Conor Travia Doyle is a medical marijuana patient who describes his experience with doctors as a “long-term experience of disasters.” As such, it is not hard to imagine he was wary about beginning a medical marijuana journey, even with several recommendations. Eventually, Doyle felt safe taking the plunge when he found a doctor who he felt was invested in his care.
“I met with a new doctor at the end of 2019 who had already put notes in my file about what I should be looking for in strains and options if I were to get a card,” Doyle said. “His knowledge of medical marijuana and apparent willingness to actively consult with my other specialists, means I am willing to take that jump.”
The process of finding a cannabis doctor does not have to be a daunting one. Knowing what to expect, and what you can expect, along with the plethora of tools to find resources in your area, has made the process easier than ever.