Becoming a Physician Who Recommends Medical Cannabis: 5 Initial Steps To Take

By Dr. Aseem Sappal (Original Article Published 9-29-15 by Cannabis Health Magazine)

cannabis-physician-symbolAt Oaksterdam University, we meet hundreds of physicians who want to learn more about medicinal cannabis and who ultimately want the option to recommend it for their patients. Many times these doctors have been approached by patients or they recognize that the opiate solutions available no longer work for particular patients.

Recommending medicinal cannabis to patients may seem daunting for physicians. After all, each state has its own set of laws, ailments covered, allowable types of medical cannabis, registration criteria and process, and political issues. Plus, medical cannabis is considered a Schedule I Substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Medical cannabis is quickly gaining acceptance across the United States.More and more physicians are being approached by their patients about potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Isn’t it time for you to become better educated about medical cannabis?

Based on my experience working with physicians and my knowledge of the changing cannabis industry, here are five steps physicians can take to educate themselves about medical cannabis.

1. Study the Science of Cannabis

While medical cannabis research conducted in the United States is limited, scientists and doctors in Europe have compiled a hefty amount of research. Since 1964, when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first isolated THC—and other cannabinoids in the marijuana plant—hundreds of research studies have been conducted around the world. In fact, there are emerging clinical applications for cannabis from Alzheimer’s Disease to Tourette’s Syndrome. A great beginning reference source has been compiled Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML, and can be found at

2. Talk With Physicians Who Recommend Medical Cannabis

I believe physicians already know how valuable networking and talking with other physicians is for their practices. However, it is worth emphasizing the benefits of talking with other physicians who recommend medical cannabis: how did they begin making recommendations, what are the challenges, how have patients responded, what cannabis therapies have worked for their patients, etc.

3. Understand the Laws Related to Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is considered a Schedule I Substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Federal laws prohibit a number of activities including prescribing marijuana or other Schedule I drugs. In fact, there are no legal supply sources from which a patient could attain medical cannabis with a prescription. However, physicians may legally recommend cannabis therapy to a patient without threat of federal sanction.

In addition, there are 23 states, as well as D.C., that have legal medical marijuana laws. Understanding the laws applicable to the state in which you practice—what was passed and what may be pending, approved conditions, possession limits, what agency oversees medical cannabis administration—and staying informed about them will help you and your patients.

4. Find and Follow Physician Regulations, Guidelines and Processes in Your State

Physicians who recommend medical cannabis can find guidelines and processes at the state level. Many times a state board of health sets regulations, statutes and policies and the state medical board will weigh in on these. Each state approaches the requirements and regulations differently, so it is very important to connect with your state public health or department of health as a starting point.

5. Learn From Your Patients Who Use Cannabis

I recognize that physicians have some of the most hectic jobs out there. It’s interesting, I once had a physician tell me that the most frustrating thing patients say about doctors relates to their unwillingness to really listen to patients. If you are seriously considering recommending medical cannabis to patients, you’ll want to slow down to listen to patients—especially those who may benefit from a different therapy. Ask patients how the prescribed opiates they’re taking make them feel. Find out if some of your patients already use cannabis. Learn how they’ve benefited from it.

Medical cannabis is quickly gaining acceptance across the United States. More and more physicians are being approached by their patients about potential medical benefits of cannabis. Isn’t it time for you to become better educated about medical cannabis?

CannaProBFeel free to contact me to learn more, or consider joining me, some of my colleagues from Oaksterdam University, and an incredible group of physicians who will be presenting at the International CannaPro Expo in Orlando, Florida, October 2 to 4, 2015. Doctors and nurses are expressly invited to the Expo and have the opportunity to earn CME/CNE credits. But anyone—entrepreneurs, growers, patients, caregivers—are all invited and welcome to attend. The curriculum will cover the state of cannabis today, medical cannabis policy, legal issues, state-by-state cannabis law briefing, best practices and mitigating risk for physicians, methods of ingestion, the science of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, medical cannabis patient testimonials, and cannabis and specific diseases including gastrointestinal disease, movement disorders, cancer, veterans and PTSD, aging.

Dr. Aseem Sappal, Oaksterdam University Provost and Dean of FacultyAbout Dr. Sappal: Dr. Aseem Sappal is Provost and Dean of the Faculty for Oaksterdam University; as such, he serves as the corporate CFO and Chief Academic Officer. His responsibilities include directing operations, developing faculty, improving the curriculum, financial management and strategic growth & partnerships.

He is a Professor of Business, Science and Civics, representing Oaksterdam University across the nation as a subject matter expert to health care professionals, business leaders, politicians and the media while promoting education and improving public awareness.

Dr. Sappal holds a Medical Degree from India, serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Health Research Institute, which works with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, is on the board of the Public Education Program Fund and is an advisor for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) and ReformCA.

He has lectured at numerous cannabis business conferences, often appears on media interviews as an expert, and writes for numerous magazines on the subjects of business, dispensary operations, horticulture and compliance. Dr Sappal is responsible for training numerous managers, business executives and investors on issues of compliance and best business practices.

Oaksterdam University courses have gone on the road nationally under his leadership, with international courses on the horizon, as well as starting a research and development program for the university. Dr. Sappal has overseen the production of campus videos and commercials, marketing, job placement, pharmacy programs, mandated education programs, training, certification and legislative advocacy.


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