The Beginner’s Guide to Medical Marijuana 

It’s still illegal to possess marijuana at the federal level, but the majority of states have passed laws making it legal to use marijuana with doctor’s approval for certain medical conditions. Start by checking this list to see if your medical condition is covered in your state. Most states require that you be a resident of that state to get a medical marijuana prescription card. Several states, like Nevada, recognize the medical cards issued by other states.

Before You Go

If your condition is listed for your state, now you can begin the process of finding a doctor to certify you for a medical marijuana card. In many states, your own personal doctor can provide this certification for you. But if he or she can’t (or won’t), you can find other doctors who specialize in giving examinations and certifying patients for medical marijuana. In California, it’s as easy as going online and using a service like NuggMd.com. You can get a certification in less than an hour.

Other states have higher hurdles—you must be evaluated in person, and the process days days or weeks instead of minutes. Using services like Leafly’s Find-a-Doctor page, pick out a doctor near you to make an appointment. Before you go, make sure you have a copy of your relevant medical records from your primary care physician, which will make the evaluation process go much more quickly and efficiently.

At the Doctor

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When you go for a medical marijuana appointment, it will look a lot like any other basic medical evaluation. The doctor will review your records and ask you some questions about your symptoms, then do a physical examination to make sure you fit the requirements in your state to receive the card. Once the doctor has decided you qualify, he or she will go over the risks and benefits of the drug, and explain to you the different ways it can be consumed—in oil form, wax, edibles, flower, etc. The doctor then issues what’s known as a medical recommendation—not a prescription—stating you meet the state’s requirements to be issued a medical marijuana card. In some states, you will leave the appointment with a temporary card that will let you immediately go to a dispensary and purchase medical cannabis. Other states require you to wait until your card is mailed to you days or weeks later. The card is good for one year, after which you need to go through the certification process again with a doctor.

Finding a Dispensary

Once you have your card, you can use your state’s website to find a list of the available medical marijuana dispensaries near you. In states that also allow recreational marijuana, it’s often cheaper to buy marijuana for medical use, because it’s taxed differently than recreational drugs. All state-licensed dispensaries are regulated in how they can produce, list and sell medical marijuana. At Wikileaf.com, you can see average prices for medical marijuana at dispensaries around the country.

Choosing the Right Cannabis

You’ve probably read about some of the crazy names different strains of cannabis can have—like Sour Diesel, Master Kush and Blue Dream. And there’s plenty of confusion behind the broad categories cannabis falls into—indica, sativa and hybrid. Cutting through the marketing and the subtle differences between strains in the same family, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. Medical marijuana (and all marijuana) is made up of a combination of two major cannabinoids, THC and CBD. THC is the cannabinoid that produces the “high,” while CBD is known for being an anti-inflammatory agent. If you’re interested in pain relief or fighting nausea and low appetite, a marijuana strain with higher THC is probably a better starting point. If you’re treating inflammation or tremors related to a disease like epilepsy, a higher CBD strain is going to be a good starting point. There are literally hundreds of strains at all ends of the THC and CBD spectrum—and some that are high in both substances. It will probably take some experimentation—and consultation with one of the expert budtenders at the dispensary—to find the right strain for you.

Things to Keep in Mind

Any consultation you do with a medical doctor about potentially getting a medical marijuana card is protected information, and it can’t be used against you by a health insurer or employer. But it’s important to remember that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. You can be charged for driving while impaired, and it is illegal to transport marijuana from a state where it is legal to one where it is illegal. Your employer can also prohibit employees from working while under the influence of marijuana, and can test for the drug like it would any other illegal substance. You can also be evaluated by a life insurance company and be required to document your use of marijuana—medical or otherwise. Some life insurance companies may penalize you—or refuse to issue a policy to you—if you use marijuana.