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What Doctors Need to Know about Medical Marijuana

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December 09, 2015 9:00 AM

What_Doctors_Need_to_Know_about_Medical_Marijuana.jpgDoctors are getting more requests for medical cannabis prescriptions than ever before. Unfortunately, many are ill prepared and hesitant to prescribe it because they do not know enough about it. But with adequate knowledge and information, they can be more confident in their prescriptions.

So here’s what physicians should know about medical marijuana.

The Onus Is on You

Patients looking for relief from symptoms of disease and illness no longer need to apply for a medical marijuana card from Health Canada. Now, new laws have put the onus directly on doctors rather than on the government. Physicians in good standing with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada with a class 1 narcotics license, as well as nurse practitioners, are the ones who have the responsibility to prescribe medical marijuana. Although the medicinal marijuana legislation is poorly written and often misunderstood, you are legally authorized to prescribe this treatment.

If your patients come seeking this natural treatment, it’s ultimately your decision whether or not to prescribe it, as Health Canada is no longer involved in the process. It’s also up to you to decide on dosage, length of treatment, and eligibility.

The Side Effects to Consider

Before prescribing any treatment option, it’s important to understand the side effects of the drug your patients are going to take. You are in the position to educate your patients and make sure that medical marijuana is the right path to take.

Although there are no major side effects and medical marijuana does minimal harm, especially compared to pharmaceuticals, you should still be aware of its effects. The short-term effects could include anxiety, panic, sensory distortion, lightheadedness, coughing, poor coordination, lower reaction time, and increased heartbeat. Contrary to popular belief, however, recent studies have shown that significant lung damage is not a long-term concern, nor is brain cell death. The chance for addiction is low and overdose deaths are virtually impossible.

The side effects of medical marijuana are actually far more minimal than those of pharmaceuticals, as many traditional drugs can lead to severe addiction, overdose death, organ damage, and other health issues.

Ingestion Methods

There are a few ways to ingest cannabis. The most common ingestion method is smoking dried cannabis or cannabis oil. However, for patients with asthma or lung problems, you could also suggest vaporizing. Another safer recommendation that you could offer to patients is ingesting it in food or beverages. When you cook with marijuana and make edibles, you eliminate the need for smoking completely.

When to Prescribe

It’s prudent to prescribe medical marijuana when your patients have tried various other forms of treatment unsuccessfully. Medical cannabis is not typically a first-line treatment option. But when everything else has failed, it’s a good route to take. It’s also ideal for patients who fear the possibility of addiction or overdose from pharmaceuticals and for those who are looking for a natural treatment option.

The list of health conditions that can be treated with medicinal marijuana is long and varied. It’s good for terminal illnesses like cancer and AIDS, and it’s effective for chronic illnesses like glaucoma, arthritis, and back pain. Some patients with mental health disorders, like PTSD, anxiety, and depression have seen improvement with cannabis treatments. It’s up to you to determine eligibility.

Screening for Risk Factors

Just like every other treatment option, medical marijuana won’t be right for everyone. There are certain risk factors that should be taken into consideration before prescribing. Patients with a cannabis use disorder or allergy shouldn’t take medicinal cannabis. Those with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or psychosis might also not respond well. Women who are nursing or pregnant should stay away from this treatment option as should patients with serious heart issues.

Although you have the right to refuse prescribing medical cannabis, this natural alternative to pharmaceuticals can allow your patients to have a better quality of life.


Topics: Medical Marijuana

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