California became the first state to pass the controversial Compassionate Use Act in 1996 to allow chronically ill patients to use marijuana to treat the symptoms of their disease. Since that time, more than two dozen states and territories have followed suit. Medical marijuana, as it came to be called, is one of the most misunderstood treatment options in America today.
While many physicians and researchers believe that the benefits of medical marijuana far outweigh the dangers, state and local governments are split on how to regulate such a powerful tool. Let’s figure out what you should know before using cannabis for the first time.
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What Is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is the treatment of specific chronic, debilitating, or life-threatening conditions with cannabis, or cannabis containing products. Diseases that are most often treated with marijuana are cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and epilepsy though each state has designated other conditions as well.
If patients are planning to start smoking marijuana for the first time to treat one of the qualifying conditions, they must be evaluated by a licensed medical practitioner. These specialists should be certified to recommend cannabis as well as knowledgeable with the product to approve the treatment. Once approved, patients are issued an identification card that is provided by their state’s health department, which oversees the program. With the card as proof of medical necessity, patients can purchase their products from a licensed dispensary.
How Does Cannabis Affect My Body?
Before smoking marijuana for the first time, you should know how its active compounds affect your body. This includes CBD and THC. Even though both of them have the same molecular structure, they are different in their effects. Thus, CBD is a non-psychoactive element, while THC is a psychoactive compound. It means that strains with a higher THC content will make you feel more high rather than CBD-dominant strains.
First-time marijuana users describe different conditions and feelings they had during their first experience. Smoking medical weed is very subjective. Patients’ experience varies not only for every individual but also for every type of strain. However, the most common effects described by patients are increased pulse rate and decreased blood pressure. In some cases, taking MMJ also gives you red eyes, dry mouth, and a body high.
Where Can I Use Medical Marijuana?
Although your state may have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government has not, making cannabis use a gray area in the eyes of the law. In the issuing state, patients should have no problems as long as they are following the guidelines set forth by their medical marijuana program.
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In all jurisdictions that have approved medical use, patients should consume their products in the comfort of their homes. Using marijuana in public places is usually prohibited and, depending on where you live, could result in hefty fines. Additionally, it is illegal in all jurisdictions for patients to use their marijuana before and while driving or using heavy machinery. Cannabis is a psychoactive plant that can delay an operator’s response time and is therefore considered driving under the influence.
How Can I Transport Medical Cannabis?
In a state that has legalized medical marijuana, patients are allowed to travel in their private vehicles with their medication if done so correctly. Many states have rules that patients should follow, such as requiring the unopened, unused products to be stored out of the reach of the driver as well as any minor children. From a federal government’s standpoint, unless it is a tremendous amount intended for sale, they will leave it up to the jurisdiction the patient is found in to determine if charges should be made.
Traveling by public transportation can make things extremely difficult for medical cannabis patients. In most states, this is prohibited, causing the patient to make other arrangements. In some areas, dispensaries or delivery services can transport the product much like durable medical equipment suppliers bring oxygen or wheelchairs to a patient’s home. If you are a first-time marijuana user and are unsure of your state’s requirements, your local dispensary can help you determine the best way to obtain your medication.
Lastly, in many states, designated caregivers can purchase marijuana for a patient who is unable to travel due to lack of transportation or whose medical condition prevents them from leaving their homes. These caregivers must meet specific guidelines and go through the same approval process as the patient. Separate IDs are issued to caregivers and patients.
Who Should I Consult on Medical Cannabis Use?
As with any medication, marijuana should be used only under the advice and care of a licensed practitioner who understands your condition and is familiar with the way cannabis works in the body. Individuals who have never used marijuana before and cannot be sure of how it will react in their bodies. When using cannabis for the first time or when trying a new delivery method or strain, patients are encouraged to be in a safe environment and with someone else if possible.
What Side Effects Does Marijuana Consumption Have?
Although marijuana is considered safer than alcohol or tobacco products, it is still a drug and can have severe side effects if abused or mixed with other substances. Before mixing medications, talk to your doctor about the risks associated with using marijuana with other drugs. Side effects related to marijuana can be enhanced by other medicines or vice versa. Safety should always be your paramount concern, so don’t take any chances, call your medical provider today.
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Medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for various conditions, but patients are urged to use precautions, especially if they have never used it before. Always know the laws where you live as well as the requirement of your job. While there may be some employment protections for medical use, that differs between states, the federal government still considers cannabis to be a Schedule I class drug and illegal. The ADA guidelines for employment protections do not extend to medical marijuana.