Doctor Adam Kawalek is a physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Now that you are incorporating cannabis into your lifestyle – whether to enhance wellness or alleviate chronic symptoms – it is time to talk with your doctor. You may wonder why disclosure is important. Truthfully, it has less to do with science and a lot to do with the patient-physician relationship.
Let me explain.
To date, most general physicians are in the dark about cannabis. We do not know which prescription drugs interact with cannabis. We know very little about its long term effects or if the relief patients experience with cannabis is in part a placebo effect.
Very few studies have been published to date. This is because cannabis, as a study drug, is unprofitable. Clinical trials cost in the tens to hundreds of millions. Therefore, the motivation to effectively study cannabis as a “drug” is limited. That means physicians are left with personal experience or anecdotal evidence shared by brave patients.
For the inquisitive doctor, there are published case studies offering data, say, for the relationship between cannabis and decrease use of opiates, or how cannabis lessens seizures in persons with a type of seizure disorder. These studies, burgeoning and informative, offer clinicians very little practical guidance.
Ironically, you as a consumer know more about cannabis than your doctor. For one, many doctors are reluctant to experiment with cannabis because of the strict hospital and federal workplace drug policies. Second, physicians simply don’t have the bandwidth to learn an entirely new medication class, especially one as ubiquitous and variable as cannabis.
A cannabis consumer, on the other hand, can walk into a dispensary or trade show and educate themselves on the cannabis microcosm. Through books, subscription magazines, online media, social media and with good ole’ trial and error, a savvy consumer is practically a professional one. So where does that leave us?
From my perspective, the cornerstone of a healthy patient-physician relationship is trust, shared decision-making, and open communication. In an ideal world, you would tell me that you vape cannabis for insomnia and I’d share with you that I have no clue how it will affect your sleep pattern or long term health. I would also thank you for sharing and tell you to continue listening to your body and “do” what feels right. I may refer you to a cannabis physician or continue to manage your care by learning from you and others like you.
The cornerstone of a healthy patient-physician relationship is trust, shared decision-making, and open communication.
Ultimately, sharing cannabis use with your doctor is a personal decision. My hope is that together, doctors and patients will continue to experiment, learn and grow together. These are interesting times, and what better time to strengthen your relationship with your healthcare provider.