Updated on January 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
With a change of daily routine and the possibility of crowded airports and roadways, flight delays and driving in unfamiliar territory, traveling can be stressful for anyone. But if you’re venturing out with a qualifying condition that can be aided by medical marijuana, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, chronic pain, arthritis or epilepsy, it can be especially taxing.
You may wonder if it’s legal to travel with medical marijuana, or whether it’s safe to fly or drive in your condition and what to do if you experience new or worsening symptoms. Don’t have to let your medical condition stop you from seeing the world. Consider these trip tips your passport to healthy adventures.
Get Your Doctor’s Okay
Before traveling, tell your healthcare provider where you’re going and whether it’s safe for you to go. Your doctor’s permission to travel (or not) may depend on your health status and where you’re headed. Some locations could be off limits because they’re too risky for your condition. If you experience complications from cancer treatment, for example, you may need to hold off on your trip until your doctor gives you the official go-ahead. The timing can be different for everyone. Remote locations, for example, may not have ready access to medical care should you need it.
Take Precautions at Airport Security
The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) allows products and medications that contain hemp-derived CBD or medications that are approved by the FDA as legal to be transported in carry on and checked bags, as long as the product is produced within the regulations defined by law under the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018. Be sure to pack enough hemp-derived CBD to last through the entire trip, plus a few extra days in case your return trip gets delayed for any reason. Allow yourself extra time in case of delays as you venture through airport security with CBD.
The TSA recommends clearly labeling any medication in pill or solid form. Your medication will undergo a visual or X-ray screening and may be tested for traces of explosives.
Don’t Try to Fly with Medical Marijuana
Although you can air travel with hemp-derived CBD medications is allowed, flying with medical marijuana domestically or internationally is risky. Even if you’re a registered medical marijuana patient in your home state or in the state you’re traveling to, airport authorities can arrest you under federal drug trafficking laws. It’s federally illegal to possess marijuana and “certain cannabis infused products, including some CBD oil,” at the airport, according to the TSA.
A better idea: Don’t bring your home supply of medical marijuana with you, especially if you’re traveling outside the U.S. According to the United Patients Group, a medical cannabis organization for physicians and patients, it’s never a good idea to travel internationally with a controlled substance, even if you have a prescription, unless you’re willing to risk being detained or arrested.
Map Out Your Medical Marijuana Options
As you’re planning your itinerary, research where and how to buy medical marijuana in the state or country you’ll be visiting. This site offers a list of states that accept out of state medical marijuana cards and the requirements for obtaining it. But, depending on where you’re traveling, it may not be possible to buy medical marijuana. If that’s the case, be prepared to go without and come up with an alternative plan for relief.
If you’re traveling by car, stow your medical marijuana in the glove compartment in a sealed container. Legally, your stash must be reasonably secured and sealed in a container and inaccessible while your vehicle is moving. If you’ll driving into a state where medical marijuana is illegal, leave your medical marijuana at home. Authorities can arrest you if medical marijuana crosses state lines where it’s illegal.
Don’t Start Medical Marijuana as You’re Leaving
Give yourself enough time to know you can tolerate any new medication a week or so before leaving home. Also, make a list of all your other prescription medications with doses and pack them in your carry-on bag so lost luggage won’t delay getting your doses.
Pack Your Medical Marijuana and Insurance Card
Be sure to pack your health insurance card and your medical marijuana card. If you will be traveling outside the U.S., call your health insurance company ahead of time to see if you’ll be covered, in case you need to see a doctor there.
Buy Travel Medical Insurance
Travel insurance is a good idea for anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. Travel medical insurance covers the cost of medical treatment outside the U.S. (or your home country). The U.S. State Department provides a list of U.S. based travel and medical insurance companies.
Be Prepared for Anything
If your symptoms worsen while you’re away; if, for example, the chronic pain for which you’re taking medical marijuana intensifies, be prepared to call 911 or its equivalent in the country you’re visiting. Here’s a reference list of emergency contact numbers in countries throughout the world, from the U.S. Department of State.
If you feel symptoms but they’re on the mild side, call your doctor for a phone consultation, but don’t delay seeking treatment from a local doctor or emergency room. Ask your hotel concierge for assistance in getting medical help, if necessary. If you’re taking a cruise and there’s no doctor on board, call the front desk for help. It’s also a good idea to ask your health care if he/she knows a doctor or hospital in the cities you’re traveling to as a contact in case the need arises. For more information on how to prepare medically for a trip to a specific country, visit Traveler’s Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About the Author
Sandra Gordon is a writer specializing in health and medicine for consumers and physicians. She has written for Everyday Health, Prevention, Healthgrades, Parents, the Cleveland Clinic, NYU Langone Health, Harvard Medical School, Your Teen, WebMD and many more.