By DEANNA DEBARA
If you’ve never seen a doctor who prescribes medical cannabis before, you probably have a lot of questions. Where do you start? How do you find a doctor? How do you get your medical cannabis card?
Since starting her practice in 1991, Dr. Tina Discepola, MD, is an integrative physician who specializes in plant-based therapies—including cannabis. We asked for her insights on what people need to know if they’re considering getting their medical marijuana card. Here’s what she had to say about what you need to know about seeing a cannabis doctor.
Q: What types of patients could benefit from seeing a cannabis doctor and using medical cannabis to treat their conditions?
A: We have certain qualifying conditions in the state of Florida, including:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
If any of those conditions cause pain, then they can also be certified.
There are [also] conditions which are classified as the same or similar. Someone might have some very obscure—but serious—chronic condition, and while it's not on the very short list, it can certainly mimic or look like or have the same sort of pathology as one of the other conditions. A doctor can go in and make a case that this person does deserve to be certified.
Q: If someone is considering seeing a doctor for cannabis for the first time, where should they start? What are the first steps they should take in finding a doctor and getting access to medical marijuana?
A: I've had patients who have approached their primary care doctors, their OB-GYNs, their neurologists, or their psychiatrist. Doctors are becoming more comfortable [discussing medical cannabis, even if] they themselves don't certify, they have colleagues who do. And so, the ideal situation would be, if your primary care doctor is a certified physician, obviously that doctor is going to know you best. [But, if not,] it's always good to have a referral from physician to physician.
Or, if you have friends, neighbors, or family that have gotten their certification for whatever their condition is, they can certainly make a recommendation and give you feedback on what their experience was.
Q: For people who are doing their own research, when they are evaluating or choosing a doctor, what steps can they take to ensure that they're making an appointment with a reputable and experienced cannabis doctor?
A: All the doctors who are certified [to prescribe medical cannabis] have been cleared by the state of Florida. [Patients] might want to start with the doctor who is active with AMMPA—the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association.
Q: What can people expect when they visit a cannabis doctor? What is a process like?
A: It should be a comprehensive visit. You're going to have your blood pressure and your pulse checked, have your vital signs checked, weight, height, a basic overview and [health] history, [and] a quick exam.
It's always best to bring any sort of corroborating medical papers that you have that support your diagnosis. It just makes it a lot easier for the doctor if they're not familiar with your [history] and if it's a first time visit.
[In addition to the exam], there are clinics that are truly full of service — not only making sure that the patients receive their certification, but also initiating the application with the state so that patients could easily get their card
Q: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that people may have about medical cannabis—and how does that hold them back from seeking out care from a cannabis doctor?
A: There's a stigma that goes along with cannabis. So, if someone has always been “anti marijuana” and grouping it along with other illicit drugs, that can certainly hamper or intrude upon one's ability to really get out and fully use [cannabis] in a medicinal way.
I think there's also some level of fear with authorities and policing the registry. [For example,] will they be under some sort of radar or will their job be able to find out if they are certified or not?
It's important for the physician, as well as the support staff to really guide the patient and answer all the questions as honestly as possible. Reassure them that the registry is really only accessed by medical personnel (and law enforcement if need be). But your employer can't call up and ask if you are a certified user.
And then, there are people who worry about having negative side effects. Maybe they've never ever experienced cannabis or don't know anyone who's used cannabis. So, they're worried about becoming high. They're worried about addiction. But those are fears that a well-trained physician would really be able to put their mind at ease with.
Q: As a doctor, what would you say to people who are thinking about seeing a cannabis doctor—and could really benefit from medical cannabis that are feeling apprehensive or nervous because they're new to the process or they've never used cannabis before?
A: If you show up for your consultation and you go ahead and get your certification, there's no obligation to then go to a dispensary—but I always recommend that they do.
There are many ways of taking [medical cannabis] and dosing can be regulated. A lot of fears are alleviated once someone walks into a MedMen dispensary. It’s very inviting. It's a comfortable space. The staff is truly well trained, friendly, and informative — that offers a lot of comfort to folks.
And again, there's really no obligation [to use medical cannabis just because you see a cannabis doctor or get your medical card]. It's important for staff at the medical facility as well as at the dispensary to work with the patient and just say ‘We're here when you need us. We're here. We're not going anywhere.’
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]
Thinking about seeing a cannabis doc and exploring medical cannabis for yourself? Then make sure to check out MedMen’s state-specific guide to getting a medical marijuana card.