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Breaking the Medical Cannabis Stigma: Talking to Your Doctor

Learn how to have open and informative conversations with your doctor about medical cannabis, addressing the stigma surrounding it and exploring potential treatment options.

min read


medically reviewed by


July 7, 2023

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Talking to your doctor about medical cannabis can be intimidating. Whether you want to find out if cannabis can be used alongside other medications or if you want to manage a new condition, it can be hard to know how and when to bring up the topic of plant medicine with your GP — especially in Australia where medicinal cannabis isn’t widely accepted in conventional medicine. 

Despite many studies showing the benefits of cannabis for a range of health conditions, some GPs aren’t comfortable discussing medicinal cannabis with patients. Even if your GP supports natural therapies, they might not have enough experience with medicinal cannabis to provide advice or refer you to a medical cannabis clinic like Polln.

Fortunately, a little bit of conversation preparation can help a lot. By speaking to your doctor about medicinal cannabis, you can arm yourself with the information you need to understand all options for your condition management. Today, we will explore the current state of medical cannabis in Australia and discuss the importance of open communication with doctors when it comes to starting a course of medical cannabis.

Prescribing Medicinal Cannabis in Australia

Despite the growing acceptance of medical cannabis worldwide, some Australian patients face challenges in accessing the treatments they need through traditional healthcare channels. This can stem from a general lack of awareness and understanding of cannabis or prejudices about cannabis treatments. Learn more about who can prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia here.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia's regulatory body for medicines, has established a framework that governs the prescribing and use of medicinal cannabis in Australia. Currently, the TGA has approved the use of medical cannabis (MC) for the treatment of over 130 conditions. The most common of which include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Nausea and vomiting

There are many conditions approved for medical cannabis treatment, however, doctors can only suggest medicinal cannabis as a primary or adjunct treatment for a condition so long as the patient meets other eligibility requirements and can provide evidence. 

According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), medical cannabis can only be prescribed if you have a chronic medical condition that has lasted for 3+ months and have tried other treatments without success. Learn more about accessing medicinal cannabis treatments in Australia here.

In rare cases, doctors might actively avoid discussing, prescribing, or referring patients to medical cannabis clinics, even when medical cannabis could be an acceptable treatment option.

Even if you’re unsure about how your GP thinks about medicinal cannabis, it’s important to speak up about your treatment choices. By starting more conversations with our doctors about our healthcare choices, we can advocate for ourselves and promote a patient-centred approach to medicine.

The Current State of Medicinal Cannabis Attitudes in Australia

Since it became legal for any medical practitioner to prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia in 2016, the attitudes toward medical cannabis have been slowly changing. Despite an increase in positive sentiments around medicinal cannabis since 2017, there is still a way to go before widespread acceptance and understanding of cannabis in the medical community. 

A survey of over 500 Australian GPs between November 2021 and February 2022 found that while many patients are interested in learning more about medicinal cannabis, GPs need more support:

  • Many GPs (66%) felt they had inadequate knowledge of medical cannabis 
  • Most GPs (85%) had received patient inquiries about medical cannabis in the last three months, but only half (52%) felt comfortable discussing it with patients.
  • Less than one in five GPs (21%) had prescribed a medical cannabis product.
  • GPs strongly supported medicinal cannabis prescribing for palliative care, cancer pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and epilepsy.
  • GPs were less supportive of prescribing MC for mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety) and insomnia.
  • GPs rated opioids, benzodiazepines, and chemotherapy drugs as more hazardous than medicinal cannabis.
  • GPs acknowledged concerns about THC-driving impairment and drug-seeking behaviour — however, concerns about CBD causing addiction and driving impairment did not agree with current evidence.

The Importance of Open Communication with Doctors

GPs play a crucial role in every healthcare team, particularly if they are familiar faces or trusted individuals responsible for our healthcare decisions. Yet, it's common for patients to unintentionally assume a passive role in healthcare communications, neglecting the fact that appointments should be meaningful conversations where we actively advocate for our interests and seek necessary input.

By openly discussing medical cannabis you can educate your doctors about your conditions, symptoms, and the potential benefits you have researched or heard about from other patients. 

It’s important to enter into these conversations respectfully, recognising that your doctors may have concerns about prescribing medical cannabis due to its historical stigma and limited research in certain areas.

Open communication allows you to advocate for yourself, ensuring that your voice is heard and your treatment preferences are considered. By sharing your personal experiences, relevant research, and information about successful medical cannabis treatments in similar cases, you can challenge any prejudices or misconceptions held by your doctors.

Preparing for Your Doctor's Appointment

Before discussing medical cannabis with your doctor, it is helpful to prepare for the appointment. By gathering relevant information, being well-informed about medical cannabis, and compiling supporting evidence, you can ensure a productive and informed discussion with your healthcare provider.

  • Gather relevant information and medical history
    If you’re starting with a new doctor, it’s helpful to start by gathering your medical records and any relevant documentation that supports your condition or symptoms. This may include, previous diagnoses, test results, and treatment history

Additionally, if you’re looking for help with undiagnosed symptoms, it can be useful to keep a journal to record your symptoms, their severity, and the impact they have on your daily life. This will provide your doctor with valuable insights into your condition and the kinds of treatments that might help.

  • Be well-informed about medical cannabis
    Educating yourself about medical cannabis is an important first step to discussing potential medical cannabis treatment with your doctor. By familiarising yourself with the basics of medical cannabis, including its potential benefits and risks, you’ll be in a good position to talk to a healthcare professional about cannabis treatments. 

Start by taking the time to understand different components of cannabis, including:

You should also take some time to understand the difference between THC and CBD, and their effects on the body, research the available forms of medical cannabis, such as oils, capsules, or inhalation methods, to have a better understanding of what might work best for you and your condition.

Before making your appointment, you can also stay informed about the legal and regulatory framework surrounding medical cannabis in your region to demonstrate that you are taking a responsible approach to exploring medical cannabis as a treatment option.

  • Look into the evidence research supporting medicinal cannabis
    To strengthen your discussion around medical cannabis, it can be helpful to do some of your research too. Look up some studies that support the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for your specific condition. Research can ensure that a discussion around medicinal cannabis is right for you in the first place too. For example, people with a history of psychosis and bipolar disorder should typically avoid medical cannabis treatments.

When looking for research, make sure you’re reading accurate sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, and clinical trials that support the use of medical cannabis in treating symptoms similar to yours. Presenting this evidence to your doctor can help them make a more informed assessment of its potential benefits and weigh the risks against the benefits.

Be prepared to discuss both the positive and potential limitations of medical cannabis based on the available research. After all, not every medication is right for everybody — even with natural treatments. By approaching your discussion openly you can demonstrate your commitment to understanding all aspects of the treatment and facilitate a better-informed conversation with your doctor.

Initiating the Conversation about Medicinal Cannabis

When it comes to bringing up medicinal cannabis with your doctor, initiating the conversation can feel daunting. However, with the right strategies and communication approaches, you can navigate this discussion effectively. Here are some tips to help you raise the topic with your doctor:

  • Choose the right moment: Find a suitable time during your appointment to bring up the subject of medicinal cannabis. It could be at the beginning when discussing treatment options or after addressing your current treatment's effectiveness
  • Be respectful and open: Approach the conversation with respect and open-mindedness. Remember that your doctor may have limited knowledge or biases regarding medicinal cannabis, so maintaining a non-confrontational tone can help create a productive dialogue.
  • Express your concerns: Communicate the challenges you face with your current treatment or the reasons why you believe medicinal cannabis may be beneficial for your condition. Highlight any side effects, lack of improvement, or the impact of your condition on your quality of life.
  • Seek clarification: Ask your doctor for their professional opinion on medicinal cannabis. Inquire about their knowledge and experience with prescribing it, as well as their stance on its potential benefits and risks. This will help you gauge their openness to the topic and guide the conversation further.
  • Share your research: Present the evidence and research you have gathered regarding medicinal cannabis and its effectiveness for your specific condition. Share any success stories or case studies that demonstrate positive outcomes for patients in similar situations. This can help provide a foundation for your discussion.
  • Ask for their input: Request your doctor's professional advice on whether medicinal cannabis could be a viable treatment option for you. Their expertise and guidance are valuable in determining the appropriateness and feasibility of incorporating medicinal cannabis into your treatment plan.

Remember, the goal is to have an open and honest conversation with your doctor. By expressing your concerns, seeking clarification, and respectfully sharing your research, you can foster a collaborative relationship that focuses on your well-being.

Addressing Prejudices and Misconceptions

When discussing medicinal cannabis with your doctor, it's important to be prepared for potential prejudices and misconceptions they may have. Here are some strategies to help you address these issues respectfully and effectively:

  • Stay calm: You have the right to talk to your doctor about different treatment options. While prejudices exist in the medical community, you shouldn’t take any push-back personally. Some practitioners just have a preference for traditional medicines.
  • Be respectful: It's important to approach healthcare conversation with empathy and understanding, even if your doctor holds biases or misconceptions. Keep the dialogue respectful and avoid becoming confrontational or defensive. Remember, your goal is to educate and inform them about your choices, not to win an argument. Patience and persistence can go a long way in breaking down barriers.
  • Find a specialised medicinal cannabis clinic and/or a second opinion: Seek a second opinion if needed: In some cases, despite your best efforts, you may encounter a doctor who remains resistant to considering medicinal cannabis. 

If you feel that your concerns are not being adequately addressed or your doctor is unwilling to explore this option, it may be beneficial to seek a second opinion from another healthcare professional who is more knowledgeable and open-minded about medicinal cannabis.

The best way to do this is to find a practitioner who understands the intricacies of medical cannabis treatments. Specialised medicinal cannabis clinics like Polln can pair you with an expert Cannabis Clinician to review your condition and health goals to see if medicinal cannabis is right for you.

By approaching prejudices and misconceptions with respect, facts, and personal stories, you can help challenge any negative biases and foster a more informed and productive conversation. In the next section, we will discuss ways to advocate for yourself and ensure your voice is heard throughout the process.

The Bottom Line

Breaking the medical cannabis stigma and talking to your doctor about it is an important step towards exploring alternative treatment options for your health. Despite some doctors in Australia being unwilling to discuss medicinal cannabis treatments, open and honest communication with your doctor is important to broaden the acceptance of plant medicines in Australia.

Through open communication, patience, and advocacy for yourself, you can navigate the complexities of accessing medical cannabis and ensure that your voice is heard in the healthcare system. 


Bawa, Z., McCartney, D., Manocha, R. et al. Knowledge, experiences, and attitudes of Australian General Practitioners towards medicinal cannabis: a 2021–2022 survey. BMC Prim. Care 23, 330 (2022).

Karanges EA, Suraev A, Elias N, et al. Knowledge and attitudes of australian general practitioners towards medicinal cannabis: a cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open. 2018;8(7):e022101.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 12. 4, Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Available from:

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Medicinal cannabis access pathways and patient access data. [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health; [cited 2023 June 27]. Available from:

Switch to Polln for doctors who really care and express delivery
Get 20% discount on your first consultation
Take your first step with medicinal cannabis

Our caring doctors are here to help every step of the way.

Book your online consultation
Book an appointment with a cannabis-friendly Polln doctor
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