Rob and Morrigan visit a local cannabis dispensary: what did they learn?

Medical MarijuanaThe first issue we encountered when we decided to go to a cannabis dispensary was how to figure out which one to go to.  We asked some health professionals we know and off the record they recommended some to us that they heard had a good reputation. As we later learned, you can go to for a list of dispensaries or even check Yelp but neither method provides non-biased information about the quality of the dispensary. These sites are also useful for finding out if the dispensary sells only to medical clients or if they sell to recreational users, as you would need a medical card if they don’t sell recreationally. Both dispensaries we went to were located in industrial areas of San Jose in non-descript buildings. They  checked ID carefully and had us sign in and register before they would let us in. The first thing we did was ask if there was anyone on staff who had expertise in cancer. The answer was yes but what “expertise” meant and what actual training they had was a big question mark. Both of the people we spoke with said they get a lot of cancer patients. What is a lot? They both estimated that about 25-30% of the people who come to the dispensary are medical patients and about half of those are cancer patients. Most come to find a way to deal with side effects from treatment like nausea, fatigue, pain relief, anxiety, depression or to stimulate their appetite. They both mentioned that the number of patients coming in has declined since cannabis became legal probably due to the large tax increase which makes buying it too expensive for many patients.  What was striking was the incredibly diverse group of customers at the dispensary in terms of age, gender and ethnicity.
So what did we learn from our visit? The most important thing is to first check with your doctor before starting on any new medication, whether it is medical cannabis or not. If you do decide to visit a medical cannabis dispensary, here are some of the questions we learned to ask from our visit:

  • Has the cannabis been lab tested and certified? Does the dispensary perform their own testing on-site? Can they show you the report?
  • Are pesticides used on the medical cannabis?
  • Do they grow their own cannabis on-site? Does this make a difference in terms of quality?
  • How fresh is the medical cannabis? Is there an expiration date?
  • What are the different ways to take medical cannabis and what are the pros and cons of each? (how quickly it will take effect, strength, etc…)
  • What is the right dosage to take? How do they know?
  • What is the CBD:THC ratio? What does that mean and why is it important?
  • What are side effects?
  • Are there any interactions with other medications? (both cancer treatment and non-cancer medications).
  • Where do they get their information from about medical cannabis and cancer? Is there a good website or journal they can recommend? Is there a doctor/nurse or other licensed health professional on-site to talk with?
  • Is there a discount for low-income patients?

If this is your first time using cannabis or medical cannabis the attendant will want to know; both people we spoke to said that the information would help them understand how to help you find the right products. This will also help them understand what your tolerance might be. While these questions can give you more information about medicinal cannabis, it is not always clear the answers will help you make a decision or even what the right answers are. That is because our takeaway from visiting these marijuana dispensaries is that while some people may experience positive effects in managing symptoms by using medical cannabis, this is still a very new field and much of the information is anecdotal. There is also a lot of inaccurate information on the internet as well as false claims so it is important to be careful about what you read. Like any medication, tell your doctor if you are interested in trying medicinal cannabis, ask questions, and gather information so you can make an informed decision. If you want to better understand what questions to ask and what the answers mean then come to our workshop on Medical Cannabis on November 15th at 6:30pm presented by oncology nurse Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC. Register today! Let us know about your experience, questions you ask and where you get your information by emailing Morrigan at [email protected].

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