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How to talk to your doctor about medical marijuana

Speaking With Your Physician About Medical Marijuana

Talking with your doctor about how medical marijuana can be part of your overall treatment plan can seem intimidating. The best way to approach your physician is from a position of knowledge. Learn what protections physicians really have so you can inform them and help them understand it’s legal and ethical for them to recommend marijuana as a treatment option for their qualifying patients.

Physicians have countless hours of training in a wide variety of areas, but many are unfamiliar with current research that supports the recommendation of medical marijuana as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for many debilitating medical conditions and their treatments. We have provided you with this information so you can discuss marijuana with your doctor from an informed perspective.

Organizations such as the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association can help. Our website provides or directs patients to volumes of information including relevant medical studies and a support network to help you through this process. For patients with chronic pain, it can sometimes seem like there is no possibility for relief, but there is hope and we are here to assist you.


Sec. 3. (from the act)

a] "Debilitating medical condition" means 1 or more of the following:

(1) Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, nail patella, or the treatment of these conditions.

(2) A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces 1 or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe and chronic pain; severe nausea; seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

(3) Any other medical condition or its treatment approved by the department, as provided for in section 5(a).

f] "Physician" means an individual licensed as a physician under Part 170 of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.17001 to 333.17084, or an osteopathic physician under Part 175 of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.17501 to 333.17556.

h] "Qualifying patient" means a person who has been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition.

(l) "Written certification" means a document signed by a physician, stating the patient's debilitating medical condition and stating that, in the physician's professional opinion, the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of marijuana to treat or alleviate the patient's debilitating medical condition or symptoms associated with the debilitating medical condition.

Does it work?

Yes. “Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation;…” – Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, 1999

Medical marijuana has demonstrated efficacy in treating the symptoms of a wide range of diseases including:
Cancer • AIDS/HIV • Alzheimer’s • Multiple Sclerosis • Chrohn’s Disease • Intractable Neuropathic and Chronic Pain

Medical marijuana’s synergistic effects with other drugs allow patients to use lower doses of opiate pain relievers.

Unlike the so called marijuana pill, Marinol, the whole plant contains all 70 cannabinoids shown to have health benefits, not just one - THC. It is less expensive and dosages are easier to control.

Is it Safe?

There are numerous studies demonstrating medical marijuana's safety and efficacy. There is no known lethal dose of marijuana or any documented case of anyone ever dying from marijuana overdose or allergic reaction. Even common aspirin causes over 1,000 American deaths annually.

The DEA's own Chief Administrative judge, Francis Young, after an exhaustive hearing stretching over many months and hundreds of pages of testimony from patients, health care providers, addictions specialists and law enforcement officers concluded the following:

"The cannabis plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is no lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision…"

Is it Legal for My Doctor to Recommend?

Yes. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which is now state law, is very clear on the protections afforded to licensed physicians. A physician shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by the Michigan board of medicine, the Michigan board of osteopathic medicine and surgery, or any other business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, solely for providing written certifications, in the course of a bona fide physician-patient relationship and after the physician has completed a full assessment of the qualifying patient's medical history, or for otherwise stating that, in the physician's professional opinion, a patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of marijuana to treat or alleviate the patient's serious or debilitating medical condition or symptoms associated with the serious or debilitating medical condition, provided that nothing shall prevent a professional licensing board from sanctioning a physician for failing to properly evaluate a patient's medical condition or otherwise violating the standard of care for evaluating medical conditions.

Use of medical marijuana will remain illegal under federal law, however since 99% of marijuana law enforcement takes place at the local level, the MMMA effectively protects the vast majority of medical marijuana patients.

Is My Doctor Protected Under Federal Law?

Yes. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that doctors may discuss medical marijuana with their patients and may issue written recommendations for its use as part of a comprehensive treatment plan – Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629 (2002). When this ruling was appealed again, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the decision to stand. It is also the current policy of President Obama's Administration not to prosecute medical marijuana cases where no state laws are being violated. Compassionate doctors in Michigan need not fear losing their federal license to dispense controlled substances.

Doctors CAN

  • Discuss, fully and candidly, the risks and benefits of medical marijuana with patients.
  • Recommend (or Approve, Endorse, Suggest, or Advise, etc.), in accordance with their medical judgment, marijuana for patient use.
  • Record in their patients’ charts discussions about and recommendations of medical marijuana.
  • Sign a government form or otherwise inform state or local officials that they have recommended medical marijuana for particular patients.
  • Testify in court or through written declaration about recommending medical marijuana for a certain patient.
  • Educate themselves about the medical benefits of marijuana, its various clinical applications, and different routes of ingestion.

Doctors CANNOT

  • Prescribe medical marijuana. This includes writing a recommendation on an Rx form.
  • Assist patients in obtaining marijuana.
  • Cultivate or possess marijuana for patient use.
  • Physically assist patients in using marijuana.
  • Recommend marijuana without a justifiable medical cause.

There are alternatives to smoked medical marijuana

Often the biggest objection health care providers have to medical marijuana is the fact it is commonly smoked.

Alternatives to smoking include:
Capsules — Marijuana may be ground into a powder and placed into capsules for internal consumption.
Vaporization — A device that heats the plant material hot enough to release its therapeutic elements but not hot enough to burn.
Food & Drink — Marijuana can be cooked into foods and added to beverages. Butter and flour made from cannabis are also popular.
Tincture— Vegetable oil based medical marijuana tinctures may be applied to the skin or mucus membranes.
Suppository — Medical marijuana can even be made into suppositories.
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