Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a medical cannabis doctor? Meet Erik Smith, MD, one of the physicians at cannabis health-tech enterprise Veriheal’s network of dedicated cannabis physicians. A charismatic man with more than twenty years of experience in women’s health and family medicine, Smith has helped hundreds of patients get their first medical marijuana (MMJ) card to treat symptoms ranging from pain and nausea to anxiety and depression. Based in Princeton, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Smith is a long-time advocate for the healing powers of cannabis. He is an active member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine.
I sat down with Dr. Smith to learn a bit more about what it’s like to be a medical marijuana doctor and what’s surprised him most about the job.
Erik Smith, MD
Smith was introduced to cannabis therapy as an experimental treatment protocol for opioid dependence in pregnant women. “The patients who were treated with cannabis saw significant improvement in weaning down and off other opioid treatments, had fewer relapses, and had better mood stability,” he said. “I was in complete awe.”
Since then he has been committed to teaching patients about the many medicinal applications for cannabis, which go well beyond traditional uses like cancer and addiction. Today, Smith most commonly meets medical cannabis patients looking for relief from insomnia, depression, anxiety, or pain. While some patients he encounters are first-time cannabis users, many others come to him with a desire to learn more about cannabis therapy after a period of self-medicating.
Not taught in medical school
According to Smith, the biggest obstacle to becoming a medical marijuana doctor is education, since therapeutic uses for cannabis aren’t taught in medical school and there is a dearth of clinical research due to federal prohibition. “It is my hope that the endocannabinoid system will eventually be taught in medical and professional schools with a therapeutic focus,” he said.
Smith and many other physicians like him look forward to the federal government rescheduling cannabis and removing it from its classification as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act so more federally funded research can be conducted on the plant.
“There is a void today in which patients receive medical cards but the physician is not driving the treatment plan,” he explained. Instead, most patients receive their cannabis information from well-trained pharmacists and budtenders. “Physicians can do more,” particularly about education, he said.
Productive doctor-patient relationships
Smith believes finding a well-educated cannabis doctor who actually cares is key to unlocking the power of medical marijuana. He stressed the importance of making every patient visit, in person or virtually via a telehealth platform, engaging, relaxed, and enjoyable. Smith said he takes the time to get to know his patients’ names, medical history, questions, and reasons for exploring medical cannabis.
“I try to find a way to not only grant a medical cannabis card, but also to be able to share my knowledge of this plant and how it will enhance their lives,” he explained.
Preparing for a consultation
According to Smith, MMJ card consultations are the most productive when patients have a working knowledge of cannabis before the first meeting, whether through firsthand experience or by spending a little time exploring educational materials online.
It’s also helpful for patients to bring documentation including a driver’s license and any relevant medical records documenting qualifying conditions. “When patients have taken some time to prepare for the visit, I’m able to spend less time explaining the basic scientific background of the cannabis plant and more time discussing their specific concerns and needs,” Smith said.
I’m grateful to Dr. Smith for sharing his thoughts with me and to the dozens of MMJ doctors like him who have dedicated their careers to helping people heal through the power of cannabis and making quality care accessible anywhere through telehealth consultations.
Joshua Green co-founded Veriheal with friend Sam Adetunji in 2017. He currently serves as co-CEO. Previously, he was a foreign exchange trader at Western Union, managing a Fortune 500 portfolio of $22 million. He also founded GD Equity Partners, a multi-family estate company comprising ninety-two apartments in Virginia and Georgia, and manages Eagle Capital Trust, a growth equity fund that manages $1.5 million in assets and investments. He received a bachelor’s degree in international agriculture and business from Florida A&M University and completed graduate studies in financial economics at American University. Green lives in San Diego with his wife and two children.