MMJ Patient Education: essential but lacking

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Through my experience working in a dispensary, I have noticed a trend in the patients' experience when they come in for their medical cannabis needs. Some patients that are new, don't even know their needs. Other patients are looking for the highest THC percentage regardless of the strain or terpene profile. As a consultant or budtender, most patients are relying on you to know how to meet their needs. But with no medical training, are they the best to advise?  Sure the patient can and should discuss what their goals are for cannabis use with their physicians, but there are often times the physician is new to cannabis, doesn't have time to explain or isn't oriented to what products are available in the market and refer the patient to the dispensary staff.

There is also another scenario to consider. Similarly to what one would find in a pain management clinic (aka pill mill), there may be patients coming in to MMJ clinics to treat their ailments and others are there seeking the recreational high. And the same goes for the physicians running these clinics, some are very concerned with helping their patients while others are simply there to write as many recommendations as possible and cash in.

This poses a problem for many patients. A new patient comes into a dispensary for the first time with PTSD or chronic pain, two common qualifying conditions. The budtender may ask if they want something for daytime or nighttime use, and suggests a product with an indica or sativa label. The patient is educated on how to use the product and sent on their way.  Treating conditions with cannabis is very much a trail and error journey. There are many factors to consider when selecting what cannabis product to try, and several questions need to be answered before the patient should consider a product. Cannabis specialist Dr. Dustin Sulak's philosophy of treating the patient and not the condition is key to a more therapeutic result. What exactly are the patient's goals with cannabis?  Is the patient taking other medications? Is the patient experienced with the psychoactive effects of cannabis? Do they prefer a specific route of administration? Is the patient elderly or do they have other underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease? Does the patient just want the highest THC for euphoria and sent on their way?

Most of the time, dispensary staff have limited medical cannabis training. Sure they are educated on the bare basics and given a fair amount of product training (IE. sativas are energizing and uplifting, indicas are relaxing and leave you "in da couch"). However, when it comes to specialized education such as what terpenes a child with Autism should avoid or if patient's blood thinner will be affected by cannabis use, the patient is frequently misinformed or the question simply can't be answered in the dispensary. This leads to some very bad experiences, unsuccessful relief and wasted money.

So what is the patient supposed to do? Who should be held responsible for providing this education and answering these questions? Who are patients ultimately relying on for their answers? I received feedback from several patients, dispensary employees and clinicians on social media platforms and it turns out, many are relying on themselves and other patients for anecdotal evidence as to what works best. Some patients are finding new doctors that have more knowledge and experience with treating their condition. Others are relying on social media support groups. There are also clinics with knowledgeable cannabis consultants that really hone in on the patient's needs and walk them through the experience and even independentconcierge businesses offering assistance to patients. Again, it's up to the patient to find these resources, the money to pay for it and persistence not get discouraged and give up too soon.

Something we know for sure, cannabis works on an individual basis rather than a one size fits all, and anecdotal feedback plays a big role in finding what works due to lack of research. In the end, medical cannabis is still in it's infancy in many states and around the world. One can expect that as research is completed, experience is gained and improvements are made in these programs that patients will have better access to education and have fewer obstacles when beginning their treatment with this incredible healing plant.

**The statements and opinions of this blog do not represent the opinions or beliefs of the company I work for.


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