What to Do When Your Mental Health Professional is Opposed to Cannabis or Psychedelics | High Times

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In recent years, cannabis and psychedelics have both re-emerged as possible solutions for scores of people suffering from physical and mental health conditions. While numerous individuals feel that their use of marijuana or psychedelics helps their daily lives, many mental health professionals aren’t echoing the sentiments, whether they’d like to or not. 

Several patients and medical professionals provided High Times with insights into the ongoing situation, detailing an often hot button topic whose friction stems from America’s ongoing drug prohibition. 

Patients Often Meet Pushback 

Most patients reported receiving little to no support when discussing marijuana or psychedelics with their mental health professionals. Several patient sources for this article reported discussing use or interest in the substances to combat mental health conditions or various forms of grief. In most cases, they came away feeling a lack of support and, instead, often being recommended pharmaceutical options. 

Elana Cohen is a public relations professional in Chicago. She began consuming cannabis 15 years ago to cope when her mother took her own life. Around the same time, she would begin what she described as her “15-year therapist and psychiatrist tour of Chicago and New York.” The period left her feeling increasingly depressed as she was recommended various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). 

With her social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continuing to affect her, Cohen’s father suggested she try cannabis. It helped despite the lack of physician recommendations. “None of my psychiatrists or therapists agreed, and it is because they do not understand,” Cohen opined. “They know nothing about CBD or cannabis to help with so many different diseases and disorders,” she added. 

Andrea Kauenhowen told High Times of similar struggles when living in Canada. There, she inquired about ayahuasca to possibly address her struggles with grief and a desire to connect with herself more spirituality. Believing ayahuasca could help break down her inner barriers, Kauenhowen said she was met with resistance from her medical professional. She stated that her physician noted that using such substances tends to force people into a deep connection they may not be prepared for. 

The blogger and account manager believes the reluctance came from a lack of personal use and stigmatization. “People tend to stick to what they know, especially in a profession where they’re providing advice and guidance,” she said. 

Discussing stigmatization and uncertain legal grounds, Kauenhowen added, “In North America, the stories that tend to make the news about ayahuasca are when someone dies in ceremony.”

Others reported negative experiences with their physicians as well, ranging from subtle disagreements to one patient reporting being diagnosed with substance abuse disorder. That said, not all experiences have been negative. 

Ronnie Levi, an Israel-based consumer, explained that his physician is not what he considers traditional. However, Levi’s doctor does not support cannabis use either. 

“My therapist recognizes the medical benefits of certain aspects of marijuana and CBD, and will never tell a patient something is right or wrong.” 

Levi added, “However, his unique outlook simply explains that most people do not necessarily need to rely on the substance in order to act as functioning human beings.” 

Laws Makes Medical Professionals Reluctant to Explore Alternative Options

The reluctance from medical professionals does appear to stem from a combination of legal barriers, licensing and the information sources. 

Dr. Michele Ross explained that the Schedule 1 status of cannabis and psilocybin is the main concern for practitioners. “They may risk losing their licenses or their jobs if they recommend patients use these substances,” stated Ross. “This can be confusing for patients, since cannabis is legal in over 30 states, and magic mushrooms were decriminalized in three cities,” said the plant medicine specialist. 

Others in the field echoed similar sentiments. Ben Tanner, a physician assistant, said that medical professionals don’t want to run afoul of the law and risk their practice. “I can say that medical professionals are reluctant to recommend substances like marijuana or psychedelics that have traditionally been, or still are, illegal, mainly because we don’t want to lose our medical license over doing something that’s not allowed.”

After legalization, Tanner said implementation could be slow in the field. “Even when things get legalized, there’s usually a significant lag before they catch on in the medical community, mainly due to inertia and traditional dogma,” said Tanner, who acknowledged the potential of various psychedelic options while lamenting their Schedule 1 status. 

Jimmy Nguyen is a consultant and psychedelic coach who also works with cannabis. He recalled that a recent survey he conducted allowed him to gain insights from a licensed psychiatrist. Paraphrasing the insights, Nguyen said, “[Physicians] primarily get their information from peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, and said that their knowledge base from a neuroscience undergraduate degree, medical school, and specialized psychiatry training allows them to make informed opinions about psychedelics.” 

He added. “Ironically, they believed psychedelics should never be consumed and that they should remain illegal substances,” though he claimed that ketamine did pique the psychiatrist’s interest. 

What to Do When Met With Reluctance?

Physicians unwilling to discuss or recommend cannabis or psychedelics remains an ever-present fixture in medicine across numerous countries. Thankfully, online resources are becoming readily available, ranging from well-sourced news articles on High Times to lab studies and medical journals. 

Patients have several other options to consider, as well. Melissa Vitale, a New York-based cannabis PR firm owner, recommended open dialogues with healthcare providers. However, conversations won’t always work. After facing years of pushback for her cannabis use to address symptoms stemming from bipolar disorder, Vitale began providing her research to the physicians. 

“Follow doctors in the cannabis healing realm and share their research,” recommended Vitale. She added, “Don’t be afraid to be honest with your provider and be assertive when they’re not getting it.”

If all else fails, a change in professional may be needed but should not be considered lightly. 

Account manager Kauenhowen couldn’t see eye-to-eye with her physician in Canada and parted ways with them over time. When a job opportunity in Colombia arose around the same period, so too did a chance to explore with plant medicines more freely. 

Before leaving your medical professional, consider the limitations they are under.

Consultant Nguyen said that progress led us to be able to discuss such substance use with many medical doctors. However, until an FDA approval comes, reluctance will likely remain the status quo for physicians. 

That said, he believes even those in support of cannabis or psychedelics use will remain cautious under the current legal circumstances. “Even if a professional were open to a patient self-medicating with a particular substance, they would be hard-pressed to provide actionable steps regarding dosage, safe consumption, and harm reduction.”