I am a chronic illness sufferer and future Medical Cannabis (MC) patient living in a prohibition state. I need to access high-quality medical information and advice from medical professionals about how to incorporate the whole cannabis plant into my routines. However, when I’ve attempted to find compassionate, knowledgeable specialists, or been honest with my care-providers, I’ve been met with push-back, confusion and doctor bias to the point of distraction.
So, where have I turned to provide that knowledge base? It’s simple - the folks who have experience with the plant and are operating in the cannabis industry.
On the one hand, MC users want to be honest so we can receive quality care, on the other hand, we don't want to put ourselves or our doctors at risk. How can we build a bridge between the information and resources we seek and the people that need to receive and digest it?
As we continue to move towards national decriminalization, structural gaps that affect equity and inclusion, expungement, and harm reduction, as well as the knowledge base of doctors, clients, consumers and patients, become more discernible and urgent.
We can look to emerging research from states with medical cannabis programs to help inform cannabis legislation in Appalachia and other prohibition states. The legal cannabis industry is still in its infancy and we have the power to provide equitable practices from the beginning.
What Can We Learn from Current Medical Cannabis States?
In states where medical cannabis is legal, 2 million users consume the plant medicinally, however, these state laws vary dramatically. Federal prohibition can add to the confusion, and oftentimes, bias of medical providers. Even in legal states, MC users struggle to access the resources they need to know how to best incorporate the plant into their medical routines.
Recent research highlights these gaps and the clinical need to provide more access to science-based evidence to aid in medical recommendations.
A 2021 study published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, examined 24 cancer patients' experiences with medical cannabis–related care in eight states with medical cannabis programs. Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted and standard qualitative techniques were used to assess the degree of Medical Cannabis (MC)‐related health care oversight, MC practices, and key information sources.
Researchers concluded that “even as MC laws identify cancer as a qualifying condition, sparse clinical trial evidence supports the use of whole‐plant cannabis in oncology.”
These themes persisted -
- Most participants received MC certifications through brief, perfunctory meetings with unfamiliar professionals
- Patients disclosed MC use to their established medical teams but received little advice.
- Self‐monitoring served as an important source of MC knowledge.
- Patients relied on nonmedical and anecdotal sources for MC information
The study findings suggest there is “a significant lack of integration of MC into medical care. MC certifiers and medical teams offered startlingly little clinical guidance regarding MC.”
In a climate of increasing cannabis legalization and a growing medical cannabis industry, even smaller studies like this can help inform future legislation in prohibition states.
The Future of Medical Cannabis in Appalachia
Meanwhile, in the prohibition South, we continue to advocate for equitable medical cannabis legislation in the face of many barriers.
MC patients can face repercussions for being honest with their care teams. Most medical schools don't teach the endocannabinoid system, yet it interacts with every other system in the body. Opioid use is a major problem in Appalachia, yet cannabis (even CBD) is rarely offered as an alternative. We're missing out on plant medicine that has minimal side effects and no documented deaths, unlike many pharmaceuticals.
MC users cannot thrive through a referral/word-of-mouth ecosystem; They deserve to have educated, unbiased support and equal access to resources that provide a full spectrum to their medical recommendations.
How can we prepare for legalization without access to quality MC information and without continuing medical education materials for healthcare professionals? How can we imagine an equitable way forward with information sharing being part of the veins of the industry? What do these avenues look like to you?
Let us know in the comments or on Instagram at @legalizeappalachia
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