Medical Cannabis: Separating Fact from Fiction

Since Florida’s medical cannabis program began in 2017, just under 250,000 residents have received MMJ licenses.

That’s more than twice the amount of MMJ patients that there was this time last year.

The state’s medical cannabis industry is expected to surpass the billion-dollar mark by 2020, with over 100 dispensaries approved for service and over 2,000 qualifying physicians prescribing the versatile plant.

Locally, there are now six medical cannabis dispensaries with at least four more on the way in the next year or so.

Medical cannabis is here, and it’s here to stay.

Local doctors have already begun adjusting to the changing landscape. Dr. Rene Pulido began prescribing cannabis to cancer patients at his clinic, Emed Specialty Group, before deciding to launch a new branch of his clinic dedicated to medical cannabis.

“I’ve been working to help my community for the last ten years and this is one of those rare breakthrough treatments that can improve lives without potential strong side effects,” says Dr. Pulido. “Many medications come with strong side effects or risk of addiction and that makes every prescription a balancing act. Being able to offer this treatment for those kind of conditions without having those concerns is truly a godsend.”

All of these changes have come about quite rapidly, and as a result, there are still plenty of questions and misunderstandings about medical cannabis.

Separating fact from fiction isn’t always easy, so we’ve taken a few common questions and concerns about medical cannabis and done our best to help set the record straight.

1. TRUE OR FALSE: ANYONE CAN GET A MEDICAL CANNABIS LICENSE

One false perception about medical cannabis is that anyone who decides they want to be able to buy cannabis can walk in and get a license. That’s not quite how it works.

In order to qualify for medical cannabis in Florida, you must suffer from one of the conditions designated for treatment by state law. These conditions include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, any terminal illness, or an illness that is closely comparable to any of those.

You also must visit a physician like Dr. Pulido who is licensed to prescribe cannabis. You’ll need to have proof of your diagnosed illness when you meet with that physician. They’ll enter you into the state database, and after a $75 fee and a week or two of waiting, your license is granted.

The combination of required medical conditions and bureaucratic hoops to jump through tends to scare off anyone who isn’t serious about medical cannabis.

2. TRUE OF FALSE: MEDICAL CANNABIS GETS YOU “HIGH”

The “high” effect that most people associate with cannabis can mostly be attributed to a specific cannabinoid known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Some medical cannabis products do contain up to 90% THC content – these products are generally recommended for patients with chronic pain issues. Most patients gradually build a tolerance to allow them to medicate without feeling foggy. And that’s only one type of product available.

Many other products are low on THC but contain a high percentage of cannabidiol, or CBD, which tends to help with anxiety and neurological conditions like epilepsy. CBD doesn’t produce intoxicating effects in the same manner as THC, and it’s even thought to negate some of the psychoactive effects of THC. That’s why “ratio” products, which balance THC and CBD, are popular among many patients.

3. TRUE OR FALSE: YOU CAN ALREADY GET CBD AT [INSERT GAS STATION NAME]

True… sort of. CBD shops have popped up around town in the past few years, and some gas stations even offer concoctions that they refer to as CBD.

But there are a couple of things worth knowing about the CBD you can get without a license. One is that, in order to be legally sold outside of a dispensary, those products must contain 0% THC. For some patients that may be ideal, but many find that they prefer at least a small presence of THC. For that, you need a license.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, because these CBD shops aren’t state-regulated dispensaries, there’s very little oversight over what’s actually in their product. You might not be getting CBD if you buy it from somewhere other than a dispensary – especially if it’s a gas station or a sketchy smoke shop.

And that raises a pretty terrifying question: what are you getting?

4. TRUE OR FALSE: CANNABIS CAN BE AS EFFECTIVE AS TRADITIONAL PAIN MEDS

Research into medical cannabis has been limited by federal laws, but you don’t have to look very hard to find plenty of anecdotal stories of cannabis being just as effective, if not more effective, than traditionally-prescribed drugs.

Many MMJ patients have switched from powerful opioids to cannabis – both pain patients and those who suffered from opioid dependency. Limited research, including a study by researchers at University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, has suggested that states with medical cannabis dispensaries see a notable reduction in the use of prescription opioids.

For physicians like Dr. Pulido, the best evidence they can get comes in the form of the direct results they’re seeing.

“The actual meaningful relief that I see daily for many of my long suffering patients is enough proof for me that this treatment is effective and safe,” says Dr. Pulido.

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