Guide For Getting A Medical Marijuana Card In Your Home State

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year, demand for medicinal marijuana and information on how to obtain a medical marijuana card soared.

For example, between the end of March and the beginning of April last year, the number of new registered medical cannabis patients in Massachusetts more than doubled. Medical cannabis users with mental health disorders were more likely than individuals with other diseases to increase their usage between March and April 2020, according to a study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. Many of the patients in that research expressed concern about catching COVID-19 or spreading it to others.

Spending more time at home with anxiety at an all-time high prompted many people, including myself, to look into their alternatives for treating stress and a variety of other health issues at home. I decided to seek an online dispensary Canada last year after years of dabbling with cannabis to treat my anxiety and migraines. I was interested in seeing what the dispensaries in my area had to offer, and I wanted a more steady and consistent method of using this drug. Despite the fact that the process was relatively simple overall, there were a few bureaucratic hurdles that I wish I’d known more about—and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The procedure for obtaining a medical cannabis card varies each state, but it often follows the same pattern. If you’re interested in receiving a card in your area, here’s a general sense of what to expect.

1. If you have a primary care physician, speak with him or her first.

The first thing to understand about receiving a medical cannabis card is that you must have one of the precise qualifying ailments that your state allows to be treated with medical marijuana in order to qualify. So, according to Brian Kessler, M.D., the first thing you should do is check your state’s list of qualifying conditions (which is usually available on the state health department’s website), see if you have one of them, and then talk to your doctor about using medical cannabis to treat that condition. (Dr. Kessler is a New York City-based sports medicine and pain management physician who certifies medical cannabis patients through NuggMD.)

Although it may appear to be an unnecessary step given that most primary care doctors are unable to certify people for medical cards, it is a good idea to check in with them first. SELF speaks with Jordan Tishler, M.D., head of the Association of Cannabis Specialists. They’ll probably have a decent notion of how other therapies have (or haven’t) worked for you in the past, and they’ll be able to warn you about any potential drug combinations you’re taking.

And, according to Dr. Tishler, if you’re interested in utilizing cannabis to treat a new problem, such as back pain, “those things demand an evaluation and a workup” before presuming cannabis is the solution.

There’s also the fact that, in order to be certified to use cannabis for some medical illnesses, you may require proof from your regular doctor. According to Dr. Kessler, this evidence could include MRI data, X-rays, or doctor’s notes. He claims that “anything with the diagnosis on it” will suffice. So having this initial talk with them is a terrific opportunity to get things started with a medical practitioner you already trust and obtain any paperwork you may require later.

2. Contact a doctor who has been approved to certify you for a card.

You must be certified by a doctor who is registered in your state to perform such certifications in order to obtain your medical cannabis card. So, if your primary care physician is also a certified medical cannabis patient, you can acquire your certification from them. However, because most general practitioners aren’t trained in cannabis medicine, you’ll almost certainly need to seek out a specialist.

Vanessa Niles, M.D., an ob-gyn and founder of Synergy Health, a California-based medical cannabis practice, tells SELF, “The endocannabinoid system isn’t taught in medical school.” “No matter whatever state you’re in, you’ll need to find a doctor that specializes in cannabis or has some kind of cannabis training to be able to certify you.”

You should be able to find a list of registered practitioners in your state by contacting your state’s health department. (For example, here’s a list for New York.) Cannabis doctor databases are also available on websites like Leafly and WeedMaps.

Another option, which may become more appealing as the COVID-19 pandemic develops, is to have a virtual consultation with firms like NuggMD or Veriheal, which use video chat to link patients with registered cannabis doctors in their area.

3. Discuss your options with your doctor to come up with a plan that works for you.

The purpose of your consultation with a cannabis expert is to ensure that you have a medical condition that qualifies you for a medical cannabis card. Following that, you and your doctor will determine the most effective method to begin utilizing cannabis to help you manage your unique issues.

Keep in mind that each state has its own list of qualifying medical conditions that a qualified doctor can certify for a medicinal cannabis card. Many of the lists have some overlap; for example, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain appear on several of them. However, there are some fascinating inconsistencies. Migraine headaches and period discomfort (dysmenorrhea), for example, are not mentioned as qualifying conditions in New York, although they are in New Jersey.

However, you might be shocked at how flexible those conditions are to interpretation. Chronic pain and “pain that degrades health and functional capabilities as an alternative to opioid use or substance use disorder as an alternative to opioid use or substance use disorder” are both qualifying conditions in New York. Dr. Kessler, who certified me, says, “There’s a whole class of illnesses that individuals may not know would qualify under chronic pain and things like that.” Chronic headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and TMJ pain, for example, may fall under the umbrella of other illnesses, he notes.

Expect to be questioned about any other health conditions you may have, any other drugs you may be taking, and any worries you may have about using cannabis in this way, though the specific shape of the talk will vary depending on your doctor.

“It’s critical to know what the patient’s symptoms are and when they want to take their medication,” adds Dr. Niles. The time is particularly important because it will assist the doctor in making recommendations about the cannabinoids and cannabinoid ratios to seek for in products. Some may create a more elevating, energetic feeling that may be used during the day, while others may provide a more calming effect that is better suited to the evening.

During this examination, the doctor should also inform you of any potential adverse effects. Increased heart rate, nausea, and dizziness are all possible symptoms.

You should leave with a good sense of what to obtain from a dispensary after this evaluation, but no doctor in the country is allowed to legally prescribe cannabis. According to Dr. Tishler, this means you won’t obtain a specific prescription that a dispensary is compelled to fill in the same way you might get an antibiotic prescription filled at a drugstore. However, your doctor should provide you with as much assistance as possible in order for you to obtain what you require.

4. Depending on your state, you may need to register with the health department.

For medicinal cannabis patients, each state has its unique set of restrictions and procedures. Patients in other states, such as Connecticut and New York, must register with the state health department before receiving their card, which can be an inconvenient bureaucratic process but isn’t normally a major obstacle.

In the end, though, these standards will be determined by the state in which you live. “You don’t have to do anything in California,” Dr. Niles explains. “Once the doctor approves you, they press a button and give you an email with your referral, along with a printed copy in the mail.” If you have any questions about what you should do after you’ve been certified, speak with your doctor or consult the website of your state’s health department.

“Getting the card isn’t a big problem for most people,” Dr. Tishler explains. “I always advise individuals to attempt things on their own first, but if they get stuck, we can assist them.” If we are unable to assist, we have access to the state cannabis commission’s support personnel, who can assist if necessary.”

5. You can use your card at a dispensary after you have it.

Your physical card will most likely take a few weeks to arrive from your state’s health department. In the meanwhile, you may be issued a temporary medical cannabis card, which you can use to acquire medical cannabis from a dispensary in accordance with your doctor’s instructions.

The dispensary’s personnel, often known as your budtenders, can also answer questions about the goods they sell. You should bring your doctor’s recommendations with you, but keep in mind that different dispensaries carry different items, so yours might not have exactly what your doctor recommended (which is why Dr. Tishler sometimes recommends specific dispensaries).

Also, remember to carry your card with you while visiting a dispensary. Because not all dispensaries accept credit cards, you may also need to bring another form of identification and cash.

6. If your dispensary offers it, ask to a cannabis pharmacist about your options.

Cannabis pharmacists, or pharmacists who have received particular training in how cannabis interacts with other pharmaceuticals and operates in the body, are becoming more popular in dispensaries. Some states, like as New York, even mandate that outlets employ cannabis pharmacists.

Dr. Kessler and Dr. Niles recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity to chat with a cannabis pharmacist before making a purchase. According to Dr. Niles, each dispensary will have its own product line, so pharmacists will have specialized knowledge on which products in that store can be good for you.

However, Dr. Tishler reminds out that dispensary pharmacists may not be completely neutral sources of information. He explains, “They are trained as pharmacists but work for the dispensary.” “There is, therefore, a potential conflict of interest.”

7. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your care staff.

Cannabis has a variety of effects on people, and even qualified doctors and pharmacists can’t always predict how a product will affect a certain patient. So keep in mind that finding a medical cannabis plan that works for you can require some trial and error.

Get in touch with your cannabis doctor if you try anything and don’t like how it made you feel, don’t think it did what it was supposed to do, or are having difficulties acquiring your card. “I tell people all the time, ‘I’m going to send you my email,’ because I want to know how they’re doing,” Dr. Tishler explains. “This includes if you’re experiencing difficulty signing up.”