‘I feel awkward talking to my doctor about cannabis. What if my doctor doesn’t want to prescribe it? What if they think I just want to get stoned? What if my doctor doesn’t know anything about medical cannabis?’
If you’ve had these thoughts about talking to your GP about cannabis, you’re not alone. Many patients have the same anxiety and concerns.
Getting through the day can be challenging enough for those living with a chronic medical condition. The thought of approaching your doctor for a new therapy or treatment should create a sense of relief or a sense of hope, not worry. While medical cannabis is proving to be a saving grace for some, many doctors are on the fence (or on the wrong side of the fence) when it comes to prescribing.
Here are a few simple facts to help create a conversation from a place of facts, not fear. If you’ve made the choice to speak with your doctor, this should give you the confidence to know you’re doing the right thing.
- Medical cannabis is a legal medicine. Remember, you’re asking your doctor for something accepted by law and authorised by a medical body.
- It’s helping people. Regardless of whether people say that there’s not enough research, there’s a lot of observational evidence from patients. And, cannabis has been used for thousands of years with zero recorded deaths attributed directly to cannabis.
- It’s not a ‘stoner’ drug. There are lawyers, paramedics, athletes and even doctors taking medical cannabis. People take various medications everyday and all still able to do their jobs.
Now that you have a foundation of facts, let’s get you ready to speak with your doctor. Here’s what we’ll cover in the article:
- Necessary background information.
- Preparing your case.
- Starting the discussion.
- Final thoughts.
Cannabis is not the same as other ‘traditional’ pharmaceuticals. Quite often patients know more about cannabis than their doctors. That’s okay because cannabis is a personalised medicine that requires two way communication and guidance between you and your doctor.
To be truly prepared for the conversation with your doctor, and your medical cannabis journey ahead, you must have a basic, foundational understanding of cannabis, and the Australian medical access pathways. The rest of this article assumes you have an understanding of the following information. If you don’t please read these related articles first:
- The difference between CBD & THC.
- Cannabis and driving information
- What the endocannabinoid system is.
- Eligibility requirements for cannabis.
- The cost of medical cannabis in Australia.
- Access pathways for prescription of cannabis.
Once you have a foundational understanding of the medical cannabis and access landscape, you’re ready to speak with your doctor.
Preparing your cannabis case
The process of getting a prescription for medical cannabis from a doctor can be taxing. While it’s not ideal, preparing for the conversation with your doctor about medical cannabis will make it much easier.
The three things you need to be prepared to discuss are:
- Your medical history (and treatment failures)
- The objections your doctor may have and,
- How your doctor can learn more about cannabis.
Medical history & treatment failure
This is where you want to be prepared to talk about the benefits and downfalls of past treatments and cannabis as a potential treatment.
Remember, to be eligible for cannabis you must have a condition and other treatments must have failed. Obviously, you’re the one being treated so you should have a good understanding of what your treatments have been. But, what you need to be able to explain is why the treatments haven’t/aren’t working for you.
We suggest that you put together a table for your doctor that lists the main symptoms that are being treated, the treatments or medication you’ve taken and what’s worked and what hasn’t.
If talking about side effects, make note on both the mental and physical side effects.
- Condition – Chronic pain
- Treatment – Tramadol
- What’s worked – slight pain relief – gets me through the day.
- What hasn’t worked – drowsiness, constant slight increase in dosage for same relief, addiction potential, makes me irritable.
Important Note: The treatments you’ve tried and that have failed don’t necessarily have to be medications. Please review the eligibility article for more details on what’s defined as a ‘treatment’.
You want to be able to show your doctor that you’ve thought this through and understand your treatment clearly.
Future medical cannabis treatment
Medical cannabis isn’t a magic bullet. It does have side effects, albeit limited. It also doesn’t work for everyone. So, make sure you take note of some of your research:
- What do you believe the benefits will be?
- How will the benefits differ from your current meds? (ie abuse potential)
- What are the potential side effects of cannabis? (ie THC vs CBD)
Giving your doctor a balanced opinion helps make a case for medical cannabis.
Current use of green market (illegal) cannabis
If you are already using cannabis to self medicate, it’s very important to tell your doctor for a few reasons. Firstly, if you’re already using cannabis, it’s safer for your doctor to get you onto a legal product. Secondly, if the doctor does help you get legal access, it will help them choose the correct product and dose to start you on.
So, make sure you take notes on how your current use of cannabis is helping in contrast to the other medications.
One major challenge is the lack of doctor education on cannabis. Be prepared for your doctor to say they don’t know much about it. If that’s the case then it might be best to confirm that they’re willing to help if they knew:
- So if you knew more about medical cannabis and the process you wouldn’t mind helping me?
If they say yes, then all you have to do is let them know that there is lots of free information and education that they can access. You may want to do your own research on products and find one that you think will work for you.
From there you can either contact the company yourself and ask them to contact your doctor, or you can get a contact name and email to provide to your doctor. We’d recommend option two so your doctor’s not put off.
Here are a few resources that you can bring to your doctor:
- Althea – Althea’s support portal is Free. Althea provides RACGP accredited courses as well as practitioner resources and scientific articles.
- Entoura – Entoura’s support portal is Free. Entoura provides medical cannabis 101 information, practitioner resources, scientific articles and free information sessions to help doctors learn about conditions and prescribing.
- Medihuanna – Medihuana provides both free and paid courses that are accredited by the RACGP.
Doctors’ cannabis objections
There is the potential that your doctor will hear the word cannabis and attempt to shut it down. Even if your doctor has an initially bad reaction, what’s the harm in pushing the conversation forward, right? (more on this in the Starting The Discussion section below).
In order to manage this part of the conversation, you may want to be prepared to handle some of the typical things that doctors say to interested patients. You can be prepared to wing it, or you can see some of the normal objections in our doctor cannabis objections article (coming soon).
Starting the discussion
Opening up the conversation may feel like the hardest part because the initial response you get from the doctor could shape the rest of the conversation.
There are many ways to start the discussion. You could mention a recent news report on cannabis. You might mention someone you know who is also a patient. Maybe you’ve even read something specific about medical cannabis and your condition.
We’d recommend starting with a statement followed by a question.
- I saw this report on 7 news about medical cannabis, CBD specifically, and chronic pain. What do you think about cannabis medicine?
Doing this gives you the opportunity to gauge how your doctor feels about cannabis and what your next step will be. If your doctor says they’re very interested or have already prescribed, you’ll likely have smooth sailing. If the doctor objects, now all of the prep you’ve done is about to pay off.
Just remember that cannabis is still quite a new concept in Australia and your doctor may be as uncomfortable talking about it as you are (maybe even more uncomfortable).
Here are a few more tips on how to continue the cannabis conversation with your doctor:
Show them you’ve done your research and are serious about it as a treatment. But, do your best to do so using tactical questions. Doctors are used to being in charge and leading conversations so allow them to be in charge. Tactical questions could be statements posed as questions:
- Did you know that…?
- Have you seen….?
- Statement…what do you think?
Be honest – if you’re using cannabis already tell them and say you’d like for them to help you do it more safely.
Tell them your options. If you’re going to go elsewhere, let them know your plans with or without them. But, explain that you’d really like to have them and their expertise be a part of your journey.
Use parallels. Depending on what they say, you may be able to compare cannabis to opioids or other prescribed drugs. You can learn more about this in the objections section below.
If you’ve gotten to this point in the article you may be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of preparation that’s needed to support a positive outcome with your GP. Know you’re not alone in how you may be feeling.
The good news is that if your doctor isn’t interested in helping you, there’s always another option. We’d recommend looking for a different local GP or going to a clinic. And, all the work you did to prepare for your GP won’t be lost because the next doctor you go to will appreciate it.
While this whole process can seem daunting it will be worth it in the end. If you do get cannabis and it helps you won’t regret the work you’ve done. And, if you convince your GP to prescribe for the first time, we can almost guarantee that you will be helping hundreds of other patients over the next few years as interest in cannabis grows.