How to start talking to your doctor about cannabis and CBD

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The decades-long stigmatization of cannabis can make initiating conversations about its use awkward and difficult, particularly with your doctor. Add to that the knowledge—or even a hunch—that your doctor may be skeptical about the benefits of cannabis, raising the topic can be downright intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.

Your medical doctor is among the most educated and trained professionals you invite into your circle of trust. In addition to four years of undergraduate school, another four years in medical school and three to seven years of residency, being a doctor requires constant continuing education and recertification. But throughout her education and training, your doctor was taught that natural remedies have limitations, and when the body can’t function on its own, it needs therapies beyond natural remedies to make you better. What’s more, the federal prohibition against cannabis—which has until recently included all forms of CBD—U.S. physicians have not been exposed to a lot of credible research and clinical trials.

In other words, if your doctor is a cannabis skeptic, it’s not entirely her fault. Years of training combined with the law of the land shaped those opinions. But it’s also important to remember that your physician is invested in your health. Long before she embarked on the long journey to become a doctor, she wanted to help people. After she put in the long hours at school and hands-on training in residency, she swore an oath to help you. She wants a good health outcome for you as much as you do. The two of you, plus others in your support network, are a team working to achieve one goal: your good health.

If you feel reluctant to discuss the possible benefits you can experience from CBD or cannabis use, here is some advice on how to raise the topic and talk to your doctor.

1. Be your own advocate

If you won’t raise this important question, who will? It’s important for you ask all the questions and present all your ideas to your physician. Helping you manage your health is your doctor’s job, and she wants to answer your questions.

2. Do your own research

As I wrote above, your doctor is continuously learning, and a great deal of this education comes directly from her patients. While there may not yet be a great deal of research or clinical trial data at your doctor’s fingertips, there is a tremendous amount of good information on the Internet. This website is also a great resource for your doctor to review the experiences of other doctors and patients. As you research, try to match your condition to the data you are finding so that it’s relevant to you specifically. Gather your research and share it with your doctor. This research will help her know you’re serious about trying cannabis as a therapy.

3. Engage in a conversation

If your doctor is reluctant to recommend or prescribe cannabis, understand her reasons, because she might have a point. For instance, you might have a condition for which cannabis or CBD isn’t a good therapy. Some cannabinoids have side effects, such as THC which makes people feel “high” and can impair motor function and cognition.

Sometimes a side effect can be more problematic than the condition that’s being treated. Some jobs test for cannabis use and testing positive can result in being fired. It’s important to understand all your options, and all the ramifications of those options. You don’t want to needlessly put yourself or your job at risk.

4. Discuss what cannabis can treat specifically

While there appears to be a body of anecdotal evidence that some conditions have been “cured” or gone into remission from cannabis use, cannabis and CBD can also provide relief from symptoms. Inflammation, which is common in a great many conditions—ranging from a bad cough to autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis—is one such symptom that CBD has shown to alleviate. Research shows that cannabis and CBD not only can provide therapeutic benefits on its own but can also make drug therapies your doctor prescribes even more efficacious. So, your conversation does not need to be about replacing your current therapy with cannabis or CBD, but rather how to tweak and augment your therapy regimen.

5. Trust your doctor

With all the hype around cannabis and CBD, some lay people will tell you that “cannabis cures” your condition which can give you hope. But this might be a false hope, and you really do need medical advice. Some conditions respond better to cannabis-based therapies than do others. Some cannabinoids have side effects, such as THC which makes people feel “high” and can impair motor function and cognition. Sometimes a side effect can be more problematic than the condition that’s being treated.

Lastly, if you choose to experiment with CBD or cannabis on your own, don’t keep it a secret from your physician. Many states make cannabis available for patients, plus Canada and a growing group of states are making it available for adult recreational use. CBD products can be purchased online or in a wide range of stores across the country. You don’t need your doctor to prescribe cannabis to you anymore, but you still need your doctor to be aware that you’re trying it. Cannabis and CBD are medicines. While the safety profile of cannabis is very large, some therapies are “contraindicated” to cannabis, meaning that if you’re taking one of these other medicines or therapies, cannabis use could at best make that therapy less effective for you, or at worst can be dangerous to your health.

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