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Health care providers should talk to patients about their cannabis use, researchers say

The rising popularity and legality of cannabis makes these conversations are important

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Photo (c) krisanapong detraphiphat - Getty Images
A new report published by researchers from Washington State University is encouraging health care providers to get candid with their patients about cannabis use. According to the researchers, being open and honest about this can only help patients receive the best medical care. 

“We want providers to ask people about their cannabis use and we want patients to feel comfortable talking about it, but right now many don’t,” said researcher Marian Wilson. 

Patients opening up about their needs

Recently, more and more consumers have been using cannabis to help treat a variety of medical issues, including chronic pain and illness and mental health concerns. By creating an open dialogue between health care providers and patients, medical professionals can better tailor their recommendations to their patients’ needs. The researchers say cannabis use could be an integral part of that. 

“Central to patient-centered conversations is understanding the top priorities of patients,” said Wilson. “Researchers have suggested that clinicians should ask ‘What matters to you?’ as well as ‘What is the matter?’” 

A recent study found that these types of conversations are happening more frequently between health care providers and their patients -- particularly with older adults. Cannabis use is on the rise among the older demographic, as it has been beneficial in treating everything from insomnia to chronic pain. 

Widespread use

Despite this progress, Wilson explained that the stigma associated with cannabis can be a roadblock for patients to be totally honest with their doctors. However, marijuana legalization -- for both recreational and medical use -- in the 2018 and 2020 elections is expected to ease some patients’ discomfort or uncertainty in broaching the topic with their health care providers. 

The popularity of CBD products has also helped ease some of the worries patients have about divulging their cannabis use. Consumers can find CBD products in popular stores like Walgreens and Dollar General, and products like drinks and snacks can discreetly provide the necessary benefits. 

While patients need to feel that they can trust their doctors to have these kinds of conversations, Wilson also explained that doctors need to be armed with the necessary medical information to help guide their patients in the best way. Moving forward, she’s hoping that experts create a resource that could be referenced in doctor-patient interactions and ensure that patients are getting the most accurate, beneficial information about cannabis use. 

“We want this paper to guide providers in how they can start opening up this conversation and normalizing it,” Wilson said. 

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