I hadn't planned on becoming a medical marijuana doctor, especially not as a nerdy kid raised by conservative Indian parents. From early on, I was on a very typical path. I started off at a very competitive high school in New Jersey, went on to Northwestern University for my undergraduate studies, and then it was off to medical school, of course. It’s what every first-born in an Indian family is destined for.
But I veered off course one sleepless night while aimlessly surfing Craigslist. I stumbled upon the words “Medical Marijuana Doctor Needed.”
A moment of curiosity evolved into a year-long quest of reading every bit of research in peer-reviewed journals that I could find. From my own personal experience, I knew that marijuana worked like a charm for insomnia—but I had no idea it had many more applications for other medical conditions. I found the research compelling.
For example, some research suggests that marijuana can be effective in managing pain and muscle spasms in those with multiple sclerosis. And significant research shows that marijuana can be effective in treating pain. It could reduce and even eliminate the need for opioids for the management of chronic pain. Opioids—Norco, Vicodin, Percocet, morphine, OxyContin, codeine, etc.—were drugs I had become very leery of over the course of my medical training. I witnessed what started off as "harmless" doctors' prescriptions spiraling into heroin addictions that ended up as lethal overdoses in the emergency room where I worked.
I questioned why I wasn't taught anything about the use of marijuana in medical school. I wanted to learn more about what medical marijuana could do. There wasn't—and still isn't—a formal training program in the field of medical marijuana. So, I did the next best thing I could. I packed up and moved across the country to work at a cannabis clinic in the mecca of medical marijuana: California.
In about a year's time, I witnessed outcomes that blew my mind. The vast majority of visits to the clinic were by patients who used marijuana to manage common conditions like pain, anxiety, and insomnia.
But I also saw patients with multiple sclerosis experience significantly fewer muscle spasms and sit more comfortably in their wheelchairs. Children who once had seizures as often as every 10 minutes were able to play with their brothers and sisters for several hours at a time. Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation were finally able to get rid of their nausea and have an appetite. Patients with chronic pain who were once on a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs reported that they were able to manage their pain just with medical marijuana alone. Patients deprived of sleep found that marijuana afforded them a better quality of sleep they hadn't had in years, even with over-the-counter sleeping aids.
I found myself affecting the lives of patients who were desperate for an answer otherwise not found in conventional medicine.
Still, since it's a budding medical field—no pun intended—marijuana certainly is not without its flaws.
For one, much like our present-day health care system, where profits prevail over patients, the field of medical marijuana is no different. Though unethical, an undue amount of pressure is placed on the doctors employed at the cannabis clinics to squeeze in as many patients as possible in a regular workday. Of course, that's done by limiting the time these doctors can spend with their patients. Unfortunately, many of these clinics have earned a reputation of being mills that simply churn out medical marijuana cards.
The other problem is, though many patients have legal and medical access to marijuana products, they often find themselves overwhelmed, confused, and lost as to what to purchase and how to use it. Ideally, they should be getting this information from their doctor, but most conventional doctors are not informed or experienced enough to help their patients out. So, instead patients end up turning to the Internet for information, which isn't always reliable.
And not knowing how to use medical marijuana puts patients at risk of experiencing unwanted side effects. These can run the gamut from grogginess, paranoia, and nausea to palpitations, dizziness, and even hallucinations. Patients with a previous history of psychosis are particularly vulnerable to the side effect of hallucinations. That's why it's important to work with a doctor experienced with medical marijuana.
After a year at the clinic, I decided to venture out on my own. I wanted to start a practice where I could spend more time with my patients and walk them through how to safely use medical marijuana for their particular health conditions.
I'm excited to see where the future of medical marijuana goes. If we can overcome the hurdle of the current federal classification of marijuana and conduct more scientific research, there's potential to affect many, many lives.