By Grace Jensen
Since medical marijuana was legalized in the state of Michigan in 2008, a gap has emerged in the health care system. For patients wishing to legally use marijuana as medication, the first step is the doctor’s office. Any licensed medical doctor can certify a “debilitating medical condition” and recommend marijuana as a treatment in Michigan. Unlike in some other states, no specialized training on the medical uses of cannabis for the doctor is required, so doctors may not have enough information about the plant’s chemistry to be able to recommend particular dosages or strains.
While most budtenders at provisioning centers/dispensaries are knowledgeable about products and strains, they aren’t trained to diagnose a patient’s condition or to consider other medications the patient may be taking.
The Role of Cannabis Consultants
Colleen Kennedy is a yoga teacher and long-time cannabis enthusiast who now runs Stone Lotus Cannabis Consulting, a small startup out of Ypsilanti. She went through the medical card process herself as a patient seeking treatment for an autoimmune disease, but found that there was a limited variety of products at that time and a great deal of stigma in the community around using THC. She now makes her own natural medibles (medical marijuana edibles) and cannabis balms. She cannot legally sell her products, but she teaches classes so others can learn to make them safely at home.
“Because of the stigma that is still associated with cannabis, many people prefer to talk to a trusted consultant about using medical cannabis, instead of their regular doctor,” Kennedy said. Cannabis consultants provide an intermediary step between the doctor’s office and the provisioning center, as well as a friendly face for patients in the treatment process.
A Growing Industry
Blue Sage Health Consulting, one of many growing micro businesses across the country as laws become more relaxed. It began as the outreach and education arm for the licensed provisioning center Bloom City Club, and now also offers classes on endocannabinoid system health as well as one-on-one consultations to help clients find the right products, establish protocol, proper dosages and contraindications with other pharmaceuticals. “It is definitely a growing industry,” said Julie Barron, consultant at Blue Sage. “A demand in the field is inspiring people to start offering more of this service.” Other local cannabis consulting businesses include The Elevation Station and Ypsilanti Medical Cannabis Consultants.
Due to a significant increase in regulations and testing requirements, the availability of cannabis products is surprisingly limited since the legalization of recreational use in November. “The recent and ongoing changes in the legal status of cannabis and hemp are very confusing for everyone,” Barron said. “The constant changes have brought about product shortages, selection shortages and a general misunderstanding about how patients can access their medicine.” Jade Cassidy, a cannabis consultant with Ypsilanti MCC, agrees: “I think a lot of people thought it was a turnkey situation and, as long as they were 21 plus, they could enter a provisioning center January 1st. This was not the case.” She recommends that all her patients keep their medical cards up-to-date in order to access the best product options and costs.
Legal but Unregulated
As a new field, cannabis consulting lacks regulation. “There is no recognized certification or training required to be a cannabis consultant,” Barron said. “I personally would look for an educated health professional with a ton of experience in cannabis therapeutics.” Part of the process of legalization, both for medical and recreational purposes, is ensuring the spread of accurate information and that products are distributed safely.
“I truly believe that, in the best interest of the patients, the government, both at the federal and state levels, needs to research cannabis use as medication,” says Dori Edwards, owner of Blue Sage Health, and Artemis, an edible marijuana whole food company. “Right now we use a lot of trial and error.” Although regulations are still being figured out, a well-trusted consultant can offer invaluable health support to patients seeking the right medical marijuana treatment for them. “With the tools we give them,” Edwards says, “patients feel more comfortable seeking out medication on their own.”