CANNABIS CULTURE – Cannabis and Telemedicine are probably the two words that nobody would have envisaged that could be spoken about together, but it is a match that is undoubtedly beneficial for the patients.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the virtual delivery of healthcare services by leveraging technology. It is an online medical consultation service that allows for two way communication between the doctors and the patients.
Although telemedicine has been around since the last three decades, it is only the technological advancements in the last 10 years that have led to its widespread adoption all over the globe. It is the prime example of how technology has managed to rev up an industry that is historically the last one to adapt to any changes.
While the benefits of telemedicine are numerous, the cannabis industry is one sector in which it has managed to find its application and is helping patients cross barriers by connecting to the doctors for a prescription to medical marijuana.
How is cannabis medicine?
Cannabis plant contains hundreds of cannabinoids out of which two are of medical significance, THC and CBD. Our body also produces cannabinoids naturally to achieve homeostasis. Medical use of cannabis restores balance to the endocannabinoid system and helps the body to regain homeostasis- a state of balanced equilibrium, which is necessary for optimal functioning of the human body.
Marijuana has been proven to be effective in treating many conditions like severe epilepsy, alleviating chronic pain, and its applications range from managing intraocular pressure in glaucoma to providing relief to cancer patients.
While cannabis may not be the panacea humanity is seeking, the medical benefits it offers can help in treating a number of conditions while fighting the adverse effects of opioids we are currently suffering from.
Current scenario of Telemedicine in the Cannabis space.
In the US, even though 33 states and the District of Columbia have made medical marijuana legal, patients still have a hard time obtaining prescriptions for the medical use of cannabis. In some cases, the physical location of the doctor licensed to prescribe cannabis may not be easily accessible by the patient while in other cases, the patient’s own doctor may just refuse to prescribe cannabis due to personal bias.
Telemedicine solves the problem by leveraging technology to bridge the doctor-patient gap. It makes access to medical marijuana for the patients possible irrespective of the physical distance to the prescribing doctor.
Opportunities for Telemedicine in Cannabis
- Access to a medical marijuana card
The MMJ card is a must for patients residing in states that don’t allow for recreational use of marijuana. In states where marijuana is legal for medical use only, medical marijuana card is necessary for getting prescription to medical cannabis and telemedicine can provide the patients with that.
Not all the doctors have the legal qualifications necessary to be able to prescribe medical marijuana. A special license or certificate is awarded to the doctors who are allowed to prescribe cannabis medically in the states that allow it. The number of doctors in the registry is really low as opposed to the patients who seek their services which results in long wait times.
The patients who seek these practitioners frequently suffer from severe chronic pain which makes travelling to the doctor’s office a hassle. Telemedicine solves both these problems. It makes effective scheduling possible reducing the wait times and eliminates the need for the patients to travel to the doctor’s office makes healthcare services more accessible to everyone.
Technologies like Artificial Intelligence in healthcare can be used in the form of facial recognition software to ensure that telemedicine for cannabis is not misused or exploited by imposters pretending to be the patient or underage children.
- Seed to supply chain maintenance
The value of telemedicine in cannabis industry isn’t just limited to getting the prescription to medical marijuana. Technology has also made it possible to harness the power of e-commerce to order medical cannabis.
The confluence of Telemedicine with cannabis industry is beneficial to the cannabis entrepreneurs as well the patients who can be assured of the purity of the products received by them. The quality of the medicine can be assured throughout the production stages leading to greater accountability. Additional technology like IoMT devices and RFID chips can be used for supply chain and inventory management to ensure no tampering occurs during the manufacturing of cannabis-based medication.
- Tailoring of dosage for individual patients
A medical marijuana consultation via telemedicine is just like a normal visit to the doctor’s office, just that it takes place from the comfort of the patient’s home and conversation takes place online. Patients who are prescribed a medical marijuana recommendation also receive information on dosage, frequency, and delivery systems from physicians with experience in recommending medical cannabis.
The doctors need the patient’s past medical history, past experience of marijuana consumption if any and then prescribe the dose and delivery system for medical cannabis after taking a number of other factors in consideration. Tailoring the personalized dosage for each patient while giving the physician the ability to cater to the maximum number of patients is an advantage telemedicine offers.
- Patient follow-ups made easy
The exact dosing guidelines are not set in stone and vary from person to person. Microdosing is the recommended method of dosing in which the patient starts off in smaller quantity and keep on gradually increasing the dose till the optimal effects kick in.
This is the reason follow up appointments are crucial in case of patients being prescribed cannabis medically. Telemedicine makes it possible for the doctors to have regular follow up with the patients and be able to modify the dosage recommendations prescribed.
Challenges for Telemedicine in Cannabis
- Regulatory hurdles to marijuana legalization
Marijuana is a schedule I drug in the United States which essentially means it currently has no accepted medical use and has a high chance of potential abuse. While it is on a spree to getting legalized for medicinal use in the majority of states, and has even gained acceptance for recreational use in some, it is yet to be recognized by FDA. The schedule I status also hampers research into medical applications which further acts as a hurdle to use of cannabis medically.
- Regulatory hurdles to Telemedicine adoption
Telemedicine involves the transfer of sensitive medical data and thus is subject to GDPR and HIPAA regulations aimed at data security and safety of patient information. The norms for payment to doctors who consult via telemedicine and the coverage of these services under health insurance still remains an uncharted premise. The norms and regulations for telemedicine also vary across the different states making regulations even more complex.
- Avoiding misuse and potential drug abuse
The THC component of marijuana is highly psychoactive and thus increases the chances of potential drug abuse in patients that have been prescribed cannabis medically. Unlike other medicines where higher dosage results in more effectiveness of the drug, in case of medical marijuana, dosing past the optimal amount required for therapeutic effect leads to impairment and potential drug addiction. Avoiding this when the patient is at a remote location is the biggest challenge that telemedicine has to overcome if it has to prove its effectiveness in the cannabis space.
Legislations and regulations are in a constant state of reform when it comes to both Telemedicine and Medicinal Cannabis. Leveraging technology to make medical marijuana available to the patients who need it are progressive steps towards a healthier future. Technological advancements like Internet of Medical things and Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare used in conjugation to Telemedicine, are only going to make access to cannabis more safe and streamlined.
Dr Vinati Kamani, a medical doctor turned writer, writes about emerging healthcare technology and their applications across industries for Arkenea. She is an avid reader and self proclaimed bibliophile. When Vinati is not at her desk penning down articles or reading up on the recent trends, she can be found travelling to remote places and soaking up different cultural experiences.