My marijuana experience

One could be forgiven for thinking that if someone lived in a place where medical marijuana was legal, it would be easy to access. One might think that someone would be prescribed marijuana on request if they were experiencing the pain and nausea that goes with Lyme Disease, chemo, and brain surgery, but one would be wrong.

In my experience, doctors have been more eager to prescribe me opiates–which I would rather not take–than cannabis. The first time that I asked for a prescription for medical marijuana, I was told that my symptoms were not appropriate for that, and I was prescribed something else, which I dutifully took. The second time I was told that my oncologist will not prescribe or refer to a cannabis clinic, and I was sent to a doctor specializing in symptom management, or palliative care, and I was prescribed something else. But on this occasion I heard my nurse in the next room arguing with the doctor, saying something like, “I just don’t think it’s fair that all of these patients come in here asking about this, and we won’t help them at all.”

The third time I asked about getting medical marijuana (in May), the palliative care doctor told me that she would refer me to the cannabis clinic, but I should take an artificial cannabinoid that she prescribed in the mean time until the referral went through. The fourth time I asked (at the end of June), the palliative care specialist said that she did not understand why the referral had not gone through yet and she would check on the referral and resubmit it if necessary. The fifth time I asked the same doctor about it (yesterday), she said that she never said that she would submit the referral, but if I really wanted it she would submit it now.

The truth is, I’m a little mad. I’m not even counting the times that I sheepishly asked nurses if they would check on the referral, and they said that they would. I don’t like being on the receiving end of gaslighting just because the medical establishment does not want to prescribe a drug that is proven to work against pain, nausea, appetite loss, and other symptoms that are connected with cancer.

If all goes correctly now, it will have taken me a year to get medically approved marijuana. I am writing this despite feeling lots of shame and embarrassment. Every time that I bring this up, I have to face the weird, implicit assumptions and the feeling of judgment from health care professionals. And if I am experiencing this, then other patients are too.

There are some people for whom a day when you take cannabis is just Thursday, but for others it is a big deal.  Ontario is poised to make recreational marijuana legal and it is so common that Tweed, a leading purveyor of cannabis products, had a promotional tent up at London Pride last weekend. I regularly see their ads when I scroll through New York Times articles. Yet try to be so bold as to ask about it in a medical setting and you get . . . nothing. Literally, nothing.

Here’s something that everyone should know. There is plenty of shame and embarrassment that comes with having stage IV cancer. There is no need to pile more on by passing judgment on patients who just want to try another thing.