PA: 5 Tips For New Cannabis Patients

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Photo Credit: Robert F. Bukaty

Pennsylvania’s newest industry comes with a learning curve.

More than 7,000 people now carry medical marijuana ID cards to treat illness with cannabis, and thousands more seek them. However, it remains a legal conundrum when it comes to federal law, and it’s still disparaged as weak science by some physicians. Uninformed patients risk getting frustrated or giving up without the right resources.

During the first hour of the Cannabis Learn conference Monday in Philadelphia, Jahan Marcu, Ph.D., chief scientific officer with Americans for Safe Access, and the organization’s associate director, Debbe Churgai, offered some starting guidelines for patients and their caregivers considering cannabis as a treatment option.

1. Know the rules

Pennsylvania’s rules under the Medical Marijuana Program are different from other states. See www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov for more specific state rules.

2. Know your rights

Employers beholden to federal laws, for example government contractors, probably won’t allow their workers to use medical cannabis. All others are bound by the state Medical Marijuana Act of 2016. Patients should know whether cannabis use might expose them to trouble in the workplace or disputes over, for example, housing and child custody.

3. Educate your doctor

“Let them know that this is medicine and it really does work in our body,” Churgai said.

Many physicians still question cannabis as an effective treatment because the research lags behind the industry’s growth. Though the number is growing, few Pennsylvania doctors are registered to recommend cannabis, and some patients may need to seek out a new doctor who can.

4. What’s best for you?

There’s oils, tinctures and capsules with varying concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD, that produce different effects. Dispensary operators can help patients tune their treatment regimen to find the right balance for their symptoms.

5. Make a plan for talking about it

“People call us drug dealers all the time and it really bothers me. I’m helping people get the medicine they need.” Churgai said, acknowledging a persistent stigma cleaved to the drug. “You need strategies to talk to people.”

Cannabis users need a plan for talking to family, friends and employers about their cannabis use.

“You want to talk to them and let them know that this medicine is really helping you,” she said.

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