Few medications are available in such a wide variety of products and strains as medical marijuana.
It can be eaten, vaped, drank or used as a tincture and an oil. It even comes as gummies.
For patients, the result can be confusion and expensive experimentation.
“Every single person needs to trial-and-error every product, every strain, every brand and every method of use to find what they personally need,” said Angelica Warren, a medical marijuana patient and activist who lives in Westerville.
A Columbus pharmacist has opened a new service to offer medical marijuana patients some clarity.
Rony Sinharoy, who worked at The Botanist dispensary in the Arena District until recently, works with patients through his fledgling company, MyMedicine LLC, which walks clients through dispensary offerings to help them find the strains and products that work best for their condition.
“I don’t think there are many physicians offering that,” he said.
The service has been around for a few weeks, and Sinharoy said it’s served five or six patients.
Doctors are divided on MyMedicine. Some said physicians who write marijuana recommendations already provide follow-up services similar to what Sinharoy is offering, while others support the venture.
Sinharoy’s company bases its advice on patient experience and research into the medical effects of marijuana, although cannabis has yet to undergo the rigorous clinical trials that drugs typically experience before doctors are allowed to prescribe them.
Sinharoy and his team meet with patients virtually, and MyMedicine has an access portal that clients use to ask follow-up questions and report their progress.
“The goal is to be a clinical resource, to accumulate all this data and research that’s out there and have knowledgeable staff members basically compiling information on these conditions,” he said.
Keith Webster, 81, of Gahanna, acquired his medical marijuana card recently and said he “was a bit fuzzy about what I needed.”
Webster has never used marijuana, but suffers neck pain because of a degenerative spine. He said chiropractic care no longer works, and he doesn’t want to take addictive painkillers. He found the difference between THC (marijuana’s intoxicating ingredient) and CBD (a cannabis extract said to have a calming effect) particularly vexing, but after a virtual meeting with Sinharoy, he believes he has a better handle on what he needs.
Webster planned to visit a Columbus dispensary for the first time this week.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
MyMedicine charges for its services, which are not covered by traditional health insurance because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Sinharoy said he hopes to ultimately save patients money because they’ll no longer need to experiment with products that don’t work.
The service tries to provide advice tailored specifically to a client.
“If they have prior lung issues, we wouldn’t recommend vaping,” for example, Sinharoy said.
Victoria Khan, a medical marijuana patient who lives in Columbus, hasn’t used MyMedicine, but said Sinharoy’s venture has promise, as long as it isn’t unduly influenced by business interests.
Patients spend a lot of money finding the right product and “the costs of experimentation are prohibitive,” she said.
Dr. Joel Simmons, the founder and medical director of the Ohio Herbal Clinic near Downtown, knows Sinharoy from the pharmacist’s time at the Botanist, and says he refers patients to MyMedicine.
Acquiring a recommendation and buying from a dispensary can be a confounding process, Simmons said, and he hopes the service will help patients navigate through some of the haze.
“With medical marijuana being an out-of-pocket cost, it’s already a challenge for patients,” he said. “Add to that, we throw a lot of information at patients during the initial visit. There are a lot of intricacies of understanding Ohio’s program, so it’s a lot to absorb.”
However, Dr. Amish Oza, who works at the ReLeaf Health medical marijuana clinic on the Northwest Side, said doctors already work with patients in a similar way.
Through follow-up appointments, Oza said he “gives patients advice on what to use, how to use it and how to consume it with their other medications.”
“(Sinharoy) is a really nice guy, and well-qualified, but I don’t see the value in what MyMedicine has to offer, since we already do the same thing,” he said.
But some doctors, he acknowledged, might not do as much hand-holding with patients.
Their patients “may see value in this service,” he said.
Sinharoy refers to dozens of studies, many of which were conducted overseas, on the effectiveness of marijuana, and says that research guides his advice.
“If you research hard enough, you actually get a pretty solid starting point with regards to cannabis medicine,” he said. “(It) obviously isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be, but if you do your due diligence, you can find reputable sources.”
What makes marijuana different from other medicines is the dozens of plant strains it is grown from, said Gary Wenk, an Ohio State psychology professor who studies the effects of drugs. Whether or not a specific strain can better treat a specific ailment is still an open question, he said.
“There are so many different strains out there, it would be expensive and you would have to have thousands and thousands of patients to get enough data,” he said.
Additionally, marijuana is most commonly used to treat chronic pain and mood disorders, and medications for those types of conditions are especially susceptible to the placebo effect, Wenk said.
“Teasing out (the effect of the drug) versus the person’s expectation is really hard, and that’s going to require a large number of patients,” he said.
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