Telemedicine is revolutionizing medicine, connecting doctors and patients quickly while attempting to shave off unnecessary expenses.
It turns out the modern electronic convenience includes the $6.7 billion medical marijuana industry, the fastest growing industry in the United States.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where pot and tech start-ups are as ubiquitous as saltwater, California doctors are leveraging basic technology to clear patients of minimal legal hurdles to obtain marijuana.
Full legalization for recreational purposes is on the November ballot in California as Proposition 64.
For now, patients seeking to obtain a doctor’s note for medicinal use only need a computer, internet connection, and a medical necessity.
Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, which means the drug is considered to have no therapeutic use.
Nonetheless, marijuana has shown to be effective at treating several conditions, from stimulating the appetites of cancer patients, to lowering the intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma.
It’s also widely used to treat chronic pain.
Considering 25 million adults — myself included — experience pain daily, treatments need to not only be effective but also free of major long-term consequences.
The opioid painkiller epidemic is evidence there needs to be a better option.
Many, including those inside the industry, believe cannabis may be one of those options in treating a variety of conditions.
So, in the interest of journalism, I consulted two online certification programs, including one financially backed by rapper Snoop Dogg, on a typical workday Wednesday.
In the span of four hours, while never leaving the Healthline office in San Francisco, I was certified twice, and had medications delivered to our door.
Getting a medical marijuana card
When evaluating patients on whether medical marijuana is right for them, doctors perform a “good faith” exam where patients are evaluated by their medical histories, and whether marijuana would be a logical treatment option.
In the interest of this article, I will be disclosing confidential medical information about myself that these doctors weighed when granting my recommendation letters.
These include the fact I have psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and what’s left of my body after slamming into concrete for two decades. This includes acute pain from skating injuries and chronic pain in my knees and hips.
These exams are the third and fourth times I have been granted access to medical marijuana under California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Passed by voters as Proposition 215, the law allows people to possess and grow, with certain limits, marijuana with a doctor’s approval. California was the first state to do so.
My first foray into receiving a recommendation for marijuana involved visiting an actual doctor’s office, although no other medical services were offered. It was advertised on the back page of every issue of SF Weekly.
The office was located on a third floor in an old building in San Francisco’s Mission District. My doctor was an 88-year-old man who spent the majority of our visit discussing his second bout with cancer. After 10 minutes, he signed my preprinted recommendation form, never once asking the reason I was seeking one.
“I hope cannabis can help you with your condition,” he said.
All told, the visit took about a half hour and cost $40 (cash only, of course).
That was in 2010. In 2016, things are much more technologically savvy.
Here are my experiences using two services where I met with doctors over webcam.
Eaze: $40, three minutes
Eaze is a San Francisco-based company financially backed by, among others, Snoop Dogg.
It lives up to its name.
I created an account, which involved entering my contact information, credit card number, and reason I was seeking a recommendation for medical marijuana. I checked the “chronic pain” box.
I was immediately put in a virtual line to see a doctor.
After about a 10-minute wait, my Los Angeles-based doctor came on screen. He looked to be in his 30s, wore a white lab coat, and spoke in a calm, soothing tone.
He asked my age (34) and where I live (Oakland, California). He asked about my chronic pain and where it manifests.
I explained after 20 or more years of jumping onto and off things in my rollerblades, there’s little left of my body that isn’t held together by scar tissue. Mostly, my knees have been getting worse.
He asked if I’d experienced any recent trauma and what other medications I’m taking. I explained I hadn’t experienced any recent traumas (knock on wood). I’m also reluctant to take pills.
From there, my doctor asked about my previous recommendations for medical marijuana, my use of it, and asked if there were any negative side effects I wanted to talk about, including any panic attacks or attempts at self-harm.
I stay away from edibles mostly because of a novice attempt at using them, which involved the movie “G.I. Joe” and public transportation. Thanks, Channing Tatum.
After three minutes, I was given the go-ahead because I didn’t trigger any glaring red flags, and I wasn’t a novice.
“I’m comfortable giving you a recommendation. There’s nothing precluding you from using cannabis,” my doctor told me. “I would just advise you to use as little as possible to control your symptoms, and if you stop experiencing the pain or you have some acute exacerbation of pain, try not to mask it with cannabis and go get evaluated if you need to.”
The evaluation cost $30, and $10 to have a certified copy of the letter sent to my house. The recommendation immediately went into my Eaze account, where I could download it and take it to a dispensary of my choice.
But, I could immediately order various marijuana products through their service, EazeUp, which is a collective of dispensaries and drivers.
While in a company meeting, I ordered a vaporizer pen and cartridge from my phone. I met the delivery driver in front of the Healthline office and paid him $70 cash. He handed me a white branded tote bag with my purchases inside.
All told, from doctor to delivery, the experience took about an hour and a half. And I never left the building.
Whether the card works at dispensaries not associated with Eaze, however, remains an issue.
Meadow MD: $100, 22 minutes
I made an appointment with Meadow MD, another San Francisco start-up that’s both a doctor’s clinic and a pot delivery service.
I registered, paid, and filled out questions about my health. This time, I was able to specify I also had mild anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
At our appointment time, a salt-of-the-Earth doctor in Berkeley, California, who later explained he was a cannabis user himself for low back pain, came online. I showed him my driver’s license over the camera.
He asked about how I’ve used marijuana in the past, including my preferred methods of ingestion. I told him I opted for the vaporizer considering I recently quit smoking cigarettes.
The conversation wasn’t just about how marijuana may help my hot mess of a list of symptoms, but specifically what I could use and how much would be needed.
I said I preferred a little bit of indica to help me sleep. He recommended purple strains like Granddaddy Purple or Purple Urkle, because they are helpful for falling asleep.
For generalized pain in my joints, he recommended nonpsychoactive THC. This was something I could use during the day for pain while not keeping my head in the clouds. It would also, he said, help reduce inflammation associated with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
For the “off hours,” he recommended a ratio of 1-to-1 of CBD:THC (healing stuff and happy stuff), calling it “one of the most powerful analgesics.” The first few doses, he said, I could expect to get some “happy effects,” as my body gets used to the medication, which is taken as a tincture.
He also recommended topical ointment for my joints. The ones in my body, that is.
All of the products he mentioned, and showed me how to use, were available through Meadow’s delivery service.
While he was throwing all this information at me, he told me I didn’t need to take notes because he would follow up by emailing me a treatment plan. And he did.