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Navigating Medical Cannabis Concerns

,  July 07, 2020  Written by David Melnick
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Oftentimes, doctors typically will not advise their patients on how best to use cannabis medicine. However, there are many patients who are looking for answers about integrating cannabis into their unique lifestyle for assistance with specific symptom relief and/or management of illnesses. Therefore, patients generally look to dispensaries for help addressing their medical concerns and for answers to questions that their doctors cannot address. This is a huge responsibility and is one that must be handled with care and empathy, while always remaining compliant. 

As to how dispensaries can handle this responsibility and what patients might expect the process to be like, the following outlines just some of the many steps to effectively conduct a consultation with a patient from the perspective of a dispensary team member.

First, it is recommended that a patient schedules a consultation. If a patient seeking a more in depth consultation comes into the dispensary during a busy time, the dispensary team member should offer to schedule a time for them to come back when there would be more time available to serve them. When the in-person consultation is scheduled, efforts should be made to ensure that it is during a time when the dispensary is not particularly busy so that the patient can have a sense of privacy. 

Before the patient comes in, the dispensary team member should prepare for the consultation by doing research! It will allow for a better understanding of the patient’s questions, concerns, and situations before the consultation. This information will help guide the best product recommendations for the patient. The team member should make sure to have digestible information and resources prepared for the patient when they do come in for the consultation. This lets patients know that the product recommendations are based on more than just an opinion. 

Creating a warm and welcoming environment is key when the patient arrives for the consultation.  The dispensary team member should begin by asking the patient to explain their medical ailment and what they are hoping to achieve by incorporating cannabis. Let the patient outline their goals with cannabis therapy. After having a good understanding of the patient’s wants and needs, the dispensary team member can share some suggestions by pulling products to present to them and explaining each product along with the appropriate consumption method. It is key to explain regimented dosing, tolerance build, time of consumption, how to consume, and what the patient’s options are. Frequently checking in with the patient helps ensure they are on the same page. The dispensary team member should answer any questions the patient may have as best as possible. If in doubt about an answer, it is best to find someone else who may know or explain that little is still known about cannabis and its medicinal effects. 

While conducting the consultation, it is incredibly important to be mindful of the language used. There is not enough conclusive scientific-evidence regarding cannabis and its therapeutic effects to make promises to patients about standardized dose and consistent/predictable effect. Using scientific research, it is acceptable to make informed predictions about how the patient should respond, but let them know it may not happen that way. 

Everyone has a unique endocannabinoid system and responds to cannabis differently. Therefore, finding an optimal cannabis regimen is incredibly personal to the individual and requires experimentation. This can be distressing to patients because it is so outside of what most are used to with allopathic, pharmaceutical medicine - take a pill and get a set of relatively consistent, predictable effects. Cannabis is not like that. Recommend microdosing and other dosing strategies to help them offset an uncomfortable experience. If questioned about drug interactions, the dispensary team member can advise patients to speak with the dispensary pharmacists or to consult with their doctor about their cannabis use and always monitor other pharmaceuticals closely. 

This is probably the most important takeaway - A DISPENSARY TEAM MEMBER SHOULD NEVER MAKE MEDICAL CLAIMS ABOUT CANNABIS! DO NOT MAKE MEDICAL CLAIMS. What is a medical claim? A medical claim is something along the lines of “cannabis cures cancer” or “cannabis will reduce seizures,” etc. This is not only out of compliance, but it is also unfair to the patient. This sets the patient up with false expectations and hope. Cannabis does have therapeutic potential, but potential is the key word here. There is not enough conclusive scientific-evidence to make medical claims about the medical efficacy of cannabis. 

To end the consultation, the dispensary team member will help the patient purchase any products they want to take home. Provide the patient with educational resources to take home, contact information, and invite them to follow up if they have any further questions or concerns. Make sure that the patient understands that this is an ongoing relationship and it is the role of the dispensary staff to advise them if they have any concerns. 

For a dispensary team member to successfully conduct a consultation, there are key things to remember:

  1. Have empathy and kindness
  2. Ask smart questions to help better understand the patient’s lifestyle
  3. Make product recommendations and share scientific-based information that will help the patient understand why a particular product recommendations is being made
  4. Help the patient understand that it will take experimentation on their part to arrive at the optimal cannabis formulation for them
  5. Assure them that the dispensary staff will be there throughout the process and provide them with guidelines to help them avoid uncomfortable experiences
  6. Finally, never ever make medical claims. This is not compliant, and it is ultimately unfair to the patient. 

Disclaimer: The information presented here is meant for educational purposes only. Medical decisions should not be made based on advertising. Consult a physician on the benefits and risks of specific medical products.

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