As one of the physicians who is writing medical marijuana recommendations on the Western Slope, I wanted to present the other side of the article in The Aspen Times last week titled “Pot docs worrying Colorado health officials.”
In fact, the medical marijuana evaluation presents an incredible opportunity for both the patient and the doctor to exchange vitally important medical information. I have developed what I believe to be an ethical, compassionate and informative evaluation. When a patient comes to me, he fills out an intake form that includes past medical and surgical history, why he feels medical marijuana might be helpful to him, if he has medicated with marijuana in the past, if he has used narcotics for his condition, other meds he is using, as well as his tobacco and alcohol history.
More than half the patients I see have no health care insurance, and many patients have not seen an M.D. for more than 10 years. Those who are fortunate enough to have health insurance are usually so confused by it that they, too, have not seen a primary care physician for years. For many of these patients medical marijuana is their health care plan. I spend an average of 30 minutes with each patient discussing his/her health. A clinical exam is then done which includes blood pressure and pulse, oral hygiene check, and auscultation of heart and lungs. From these exams, I have diagnosed squamous and basal cell carcinoma, pharyngitis, sinusitis, heart murmurs, asthma, and possible hypertension. All tobacco smokers receive information on the devastating effects of this habit.
General wellness information, including nutritional advice, techniques for musculo-skeletal self-massage, oral hygiene tips, etc., are always shared with the patient. Patients may have follow-up exams with me as the need arises.
In 1970, as a college athlete, I fractured my back and herniated a disc. Following major spinal fusion surgery, I was placed on high-dose narcotics for pain. Friends from my university visited and brought me “happy brownies” (remember, it was the ’70s!). The nurses were amazed that I no longer needed pain meds, but then, they did not know what was in the little cardboard shoe box next to my bed.
These brownies also relieved the claustrophobia and anxiety I experienced while flat in bed in a 40-pound neck-to-knee body cast for two-and-a-half months.
Patients have shared their experiences with me:
“It got me off the synthetic narcotics to which I had become addicted.”
“It got me to stop smoking tobacco.”
“It eases the pain of my post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“Totally took my knee pain away.”
“I had no health care insurance and could not afford knee surgery. I used cannabis and it took the pain away.”
“My autistic son got his life back at the age of 15 when he started self-medicating with marijuana.”
“Like every living thing on this planet, cannabis is here for a reason.”
In my medical practice, veterans receive a discount, while disabled and indigent patients are treated on a sliding scale; some receive care at no cost. A disabled vet today told me he had suffered from severe manic-depression. On June 6, 1965, he self-medicated with marijuana and said he was “reborn” and has kept this mental illness in check with cannabis since that date. He explained he’d bought a car in Aspen in 1985 for $125 and was still driving it and living in it. Needless to say, his evaluation was gratis.
Finally, most patients are eager to improve the quality of their health. The dispensaries and the growers work hard to supply patients with the highest quality products, all home grown in our beautiful mountain state. We are so lucky to live in one of the 14 states that give us the option of using the oldest herbal medicine known to mankind. Be well and medicate responsibly.
Dr. Wendy Zaharko
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