Updated on January 7, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Medical marijuana is often controversial and heavily debated, so it’s natural to wonder, “Should I recommend medical marijuana?” As a medical professional, it’s important to have the full picture of a particular treatment option. Explore the benefits of recommending medical marijuana for doctors and practices to help make your decision.
Increased Patient Volume
One of the biggest benefits of recommending medical marijuana is an increase in your patient load. The number of doctors issuing marijuana recommendations is relatively low. The few doctors who do recommend marijuana handle a large number of the certificates. Because there are such small numbers of physicians issuing the recommendations, you can target this niche market to help grow your patient numbers.
By offering medical marijuana recommendations, you set yourself apart from the other medical practices in your area that don’t recommend the drug. It won’t take long for word to spread about your position on medical marijuana, which will drive new patients to your practice.
Patients want choice when it comes to their treatment options, and they’re willing to switch to a new care provider to get that choice. Many Americans approve of marijuana for medical purposes, and many people who have medical conditions may specifically seek out doctors who recommend cannabis. When you start recommending medical marijuana, you attract that large population of people who want to try treating their conditions with it. Some patients may be on the fence about using medical marijuana, but they want the opportunity to learn more from a qualified medical marijuana doctor.
An increased patient load is a positive effect on your business in general. You grow your practice more than you may have grown it without recommending marijuana. You have a new selling point when you fill that niche, which can help in your marketing plan. Your current patients are likely to recommend you to their acquaintances who are also interested in treating medical conditions with cannabis. That steady flow of patients keeps you in business and helps your practice thrive.
If you run your own practice, the increased patient load may enable you to expand to include more practitioners. This growth not only helps your profits, but it also gives you the power to reach even more patients with a potentially life-changing treatment option for various conditions.
Recommending marijuana to your patients can create a significant increase in your revenue. As we already mentioned, giving patients recommendations for medical marijuana makes your practice more popular among those who seek this treatment option. With that increased patient load, you keep your schedule full with billable appointments. Regular monitoring of those patients keeps them coming back for follow-up appointments, which further increases your practice’s revenue.
Medical marijuana clinics are often cash-only practices. This cash-only method relates to the fact that insurance doesn’t cover medical marijuana, which we’ll get to in more detail. By collecting payments at the time of the appointment, you see your money right away from the appointments you perform. You eliminate the need to track down patients who don’t pay their bills, which saves you time and makes your work more profitable.
Less Dealing With Insurance Companies
Medical practices have plenty of paperwork to deal with on a daily basis. Handling insurance claims on behalf of patients is a time-consuming task, whether you’re a sole practitioner or work as part of a larger practice. Hiring someone to handle the insurance paperwork costs the practice more money, which eats into the profits. Dealing with insurance companies isn’t always easy or enjoyable, either.
Recommending medical marijuana can take some of the paperwork out of the equation, since insurance companies don’t cover medical marijuana. When a patient chooses to pursue medical marijuana as a treatment option, he or she understands that it is an out-of-pocket expense that won’t be covered by the insurance company. Your practice doesn’t have to file claims on behalf of the patients. You don’t have to go back and forth with the company to get the medical marijuana recommendation approved like you might with other medications you prescribe. This can simplify the process of handling your patients, allowing you to focus more of your attention on those patients rather than dealing with insurance companies.
Public Support From Pro-Marijuana Population
Americans increasingly agree that marijuana should be legalized, particularly for medicinal purposes. A 2017 CBS News poll showed that 61 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. That’s the highest percentage ever in the poll, with an increase of five points over the previous year. That number increases to 88 percent in favor of legalized medical marijuana use.
Those numbers should be comforting if you’re concerned about how the public will perceive your practice should you start to recommend marijuana. The number of people who oppose marijuana completely is very small, based on these poll numbers. In other words, most people will support your pursuits rather than protest.
With so much support from Americans on the topic, recommending medical marijuana can keep your practice in the good graces of the public. By recommending medical marijuana in certain cases, you may avoid backlash from the pro-marijuana crowd in the community. You become the champion of the pro-marijuana population.
Improved Patient Health
As a physician, your goal is to improve the overall health of your patients. In some cases, that means curing conditions. In other cases, it simply means making the patient with an incurable condition more comfortable with fewer side effects. Traditional medication often leaves doctors feeling limited when it comes to meeting those goals.
Medical marijuana can help a wide variety of conditions and diseases, from minor to major. While official studies tend to be limited, due to federal regulations and the Schedule 1 status of the drug, there is a significant amount of evidence showing that cannabis helps with an assortment of symptoms and specific conditions. By recommending marijuana for certain medical issues and symptoms, you can help improve the health of your patients. They may suddenly find relief for medical conditions that have plagued them for months or even years.
Just a few of the conditions that may see improvement with the use of medical marijuana include:
Epilepsy and seizures
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Lou Gehrig’s disease
With such a wide range of conditions responding to marijuana, you can offer a large percentage of your clientele a recommendation for cannabis. Those recommendations have the potential to provide relief and improve the quality of life of those patients.
Cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the body in a way that addresses many symptoms associated with various illnesses and medical conditions. The cannabinoids interact with the receptors in the body’s natural endocannabinoid system, helping regulate many different processes in the body. Because the receptors are located throughout the body, they can affect the symptoms and effects of many different illnesses.
Marijuana may help minimize many side effects related to various medical conditions, including:
Pain: One of the biggest medical benefits of using marijuana is its pain-relieving quality. Many medical conditions involve pain in some way, whether the patient experiences nerve pain, generalized pain or pain in a specific area associated with the medical problem. Even if marijuana can’t cure the condition itself, the pain relief often makes the condition easier to handle. Marijuana is often effective in treating a variety of pain types, including chronic pain, nerve pain and headaches.
Inflammation: Another common component in many medical conditions is inflammation. Marijuana is thought to have an anti-inflammatory quality. Reduced inflammation can also help with pain relief and minimize the impact of the medical condition on the body. Inflammation often causes further damage or additional symptoms, so eliminating that inflammation can make a major impact on the patient.
Insomnia: Marijuana often creates a sleepy effect on users, which is quite beneficial for those suffering from sleep problems. For many patients, the combination of relieving pain and creating a sleepy feeling is enough to make sleep easier. Indica-dominant strains of marijuana are particularly useful for patients who need help with sleep. Getting necessary rest can make a huge difference in the patient’s quality of life, making it easier to handle day-to-day activities without feeling exhausted.
Appetite: Many patients experience a spike in appetite with the use of marijuana. Certain medical conditions make patients lose weight or experience a decrease in appetite. Using marijuana can combat those effects, helping the patient gain weight and get the nutrients needed. Increasing weight and nutrition supports the patient’s overall health and may help the patient stay stronger and better able to fight the condition.
Depression: In many patients, marijuana has an antidepressant effect. Since depression can accompany many medical conditions, this effect can be helpful for patients.
Anxiety: Marijuana is also useful in treating anxiety in some people. Like depression, anxiety is often a symptom of medical conditions, especially serious issues. By relieving some of the depression and anxiety, the patient can maintain a better outlook on the situation. Other patients deal with anxiety disorders as the primary medical condition. Marijuana may help ease the effects of that condition.
Muscle spasticity and stiffness: Many patients find relief for muscle spasticity and stiffness by using marijuana. This effect can significantly increase the comfort of the patient. Other patients may experience increased mobility or have better control over their bodies with the decrease in muscle spasticity and stiffness.
Neuroprotective: Cannabinoids appear to have a neuroprotective effect, which can support brain health or prevent further damage after a traumatic brain injury. By protecting the brain, you help your patients maintain peak functioning.
Increased Treatment Options
Traditional medicine often has limitations when it comes to treating various medical conditions. The best pharmaceutical option for treating a condition may cause serious side effects, for example. Or, the condition may have no effective traditional options at all. If you feel limited in what you can offer your patients, introducing marijuana as an option can give you an effective alternative. Marijuana may not be right for all your patients, but it does expand the options for patients who haven’t had success or feel frustrated with traditional treatments.
With so many potential illnesses and symptoms treated with marijuana, recommending it to certain patients can open up a new way to treat diseases. This can be particularly beneficial for patients who haven’t responded well to traditional treatment options for various conditions. Those patients may suddenly feel relief from symptoms caused by medical conditions, which can make the patient feel significantly better, experience a greater quality of life and regain functioning previously lost due to the medical condition.
Doctors who recommend medical marijuana get the opportunity to effect real change in the lives of their patients. Research may be limited in the field of medical marijuana, but anecdotal evidence repeatedly shows how powerful cannabis is in treating various conditions and specific symptoms. Even patients with terminal diseases often see improvement in their symptoms to improve quality of life until the end.
When you choose to recommend marijuana to patients, you get to be a part of that experience. You can see the improvements your patients make. That success is a very rewarding feeling, especially with patients who failed to see any improvement with traditional treatment options. Those success stories can also give you a better understanding of the power of marijuana and make you more confident in recommending it for future patients. Marijuana doctors may feel they make much more of an impact on their patients than they did before recommending marijuana.
Fewer Recurring Patients With Side Effects From Other Medications
Most medical conditions have a variety of traditional medications that can work to relieve symptoms. Those medications have varying levels of success. The success can vary from patient to patient. However, many medications also come with potentially serious side effects. Those side effects can range from addiction to organ damage. This can cause further health problems for your patients, resulting in the need for additional medical care.
Here are a few examples of potential side effects of pharmaceuticals:
Addiction to opioids that can lead to additional drug abuse
Allergic reactions to almost any type of medication, from minor itching to dangerous anaphylactic reactions
Liver damage from pain relievers
Glaucoma, fluid retention and high blood pressure with corticosteroid use
Patients can also experience serious effects of drug interactions when taking more than one prescription medication. This interaction can happen when patients don’t reveal the prescription medications they already take. Even over-the-counter medications could cause interactions. Since marijuana is effective for a number of different symptoms, patients may be able to eliminate other prescription drugs to use marijuana to manage all of the symptoms. This cuts the risk of dangerous drug interactions.
In some cases, the potential side effects are a necessary risk to receive the medicinal benefit of the drug. However, many patients don’t want to risk those potentially devastating effects. You may not feel comfortable prescribing those medications that you know can cause severe problems.
Marijuana is often effective in treating the symptoms covered by a wide range of medications, and the drug has relatively few side effects. This gives you a way to treat your patients’ symptoms with a much lower risk of seeing them for serious side effects of medications. When patients stop using the marijuana and the drug exits the system, those side effects end. Some of the side effects are beneficial, depending on the patient’s situation. Even if the side effects aren’t desirable, they generally won’t cause additional health problems that send your patient back to you for complications.
Some of the side effects of marijuana include:
Euphoria or a sense of being high
Position as an Expert
Medical marijuana is not part of the typical medical school curriculum. Many general practitioners have little, if any, knowledge of medical marijuana and how it can help patients. By exploring the option of using medical marijuana, you grow your knowledge of the field to position yourself as an expert. You become the go-to medical professional for all things medical cannabis.
Patients often find medical marijuana confusing or overwhelming. Even if they’re done some research on the treatment options, they may still have questions. They may not understand the different ingestion options for marijuana, assuming smoking a joint is the only option. They may have misconceptions on the side effects of marijuana. If they rely on the Internet for their research, they’ll likely see conflicting and sometimes inaccurate information, which only complicates the situation.
Becoming a medical marijuana doctor puts you in a position to educate your patients by providing accurate information about marijuana. This education can help your patients use marijuana to treat medical conditions effectively. Proper use of marijuana is the best way to minimize unwanted side effects while maximizing the effectiveness of the plant. You can also help other doctors in the area learn more about this treatment option, so more patients in the area have access to the benefits of marijuana.
If you start out working for a practice that recommends marijuana, positioning yourself as an expert can help you go out on your own to start our own marijuana medical practice. You develop a following and create a sense of trust with your patients based on your expertise in the area. This gives you the strong client base you need to sustain your own practice.
Legal Aspects of Being a Marijuana Doctor
Some doctors avoid recommending marijuana for medical conditions out of fear. They may worry about the legal repercussions of recommending marijuana, such as a malpractice suit from a patient who isn’t happy with the results. While those fears are understandable, they are unfounded and may hold you back from success with no real basis for those fears.
Instead of prescribing marijuana, doctors write letters of recommendation for patients so they can receive a certification to use medical marijuana. The doctor must fulfill certain requirements before issuing the letter of recommendation, including performing an exam on the patient first. Physicians don’t dispense the marijuana. This is left to licensed dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal.
If you follow proper protocols in your state and make your decisions ethically, you shouldn’t have any legal issues in recommending marijuana. Because physicians only recommend, instead of prescribing, and don’t dispense the marijuana, there really isn’t much room for malpractice suits. You also should have no problems with your malpractice insurer if you choose to recommend marijuana. While the company may want to know you are recommending marijuana to patients, they likely won’t exclude you from coverage for the practice.
Recommending medical marijuana benefits both you and your patients. Your practice grows as you distinguish yourself as the go-to expert for medical cannabis. Your patients get expanded treatment options for everything from chronic pain to terminal illnesses. Sign up for our newsletter to stay current and learn more.