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Ask The Cannabist: Should I tell my doctor I use weed?

Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly, you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 100-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at askthecannabist@gmail.com.

Hey, Cannabist!

When I fill out a non-marijuana-friendly doctor’s new patient form (in Colorado), it asks, “Do you engage in illegal drugs?”  What are the pros and cons to admitting this to my doctor? Doesn’t my insurance carrier see these forms too? Do I say nothing, or do I ‘fess up? –Hobbling Herb

Hey, Hobbling Herb!

It sounds like you are concerned that if you tell your doctor about your health or lifestyle choices, you risk repercussions with your insurance company because your marijuana use would be documented. Remember, marijuana use is legal for adults 21 and older in Colorado, whether for medical or recreational reasons, so you are not engaging in illegal drug use.

I asked Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Harvard-trained physician and medical marijuana advocate based in Colorado, to share his opinion on the matter. Shackelford says transparency with your doctors is key.  “I think it is important for patients to discuss all of the things they use medically with their doctors, pro cannabis or not,” he says via email.

One of the issues facing traditional doctors is that the knowledge of medical marijuana’s potential benefits has emerged largely outside the medical establishment. Your doctor may or may not be aware of the latest studies, information and usage guidelines regarding marijuana use.

Acceptance of marijuana use in medical circles varies. According to Shackelford: “The pros/cons are unknown and depend on the specific circumstances and company and the specific physician. Some doctors may not wish to treat the patient, others will be interested in how cannabis works. There are no hard-and-fast rules.”

Since you are concerned about the privacy of your medical records with your insurance company but want to be open with your doctor, try this strategy suggested by Shackelford.  Instead of documenting your marijuana use on the doctor intake forms, have a confidential conversation during your appointment. First, ask the doctor specifically not to record what you are about to say. Get the doctor’s verbal acknowledgement before bringing up the topic, and then discuss your use. Describe to the doctor how marijuana helps or doesn’t help you.  XO

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