A few months ago, a woman with chronic facial pain walked into Dr. Sunil Aggarwal's clinic off Eastlake Avenue in Seattle. The woman was in her mid-50s and had spent the last decade unable to do simple things (like brush her teeth or go to work) without feeling debilitating pain, despite heavy amounts of a prescription drug called gabapentin. After a consultation with Aggarwal, she left with a cannabis supplement.
Two weeks later, she e-mailed Aggarwal a simple response.
"She said, 'All right, the pain is stopping, it's done. I brushed my teeth today and there was no pain,'" Aggarwal told me. "It's so nice to see simple coordination, a simple remedy, for somebody that had almost 10 years of unrelenting nerve pain in the face."
Cannabis accomplished what 10 years of prescription meds couldn't.
This kind of pot-is-a-miracle-cure story is probably not surprising to you. Tales of weed alleviating gout or seizures have become commonplace. But a huge disconnect still remains: People might know that pot can help them, but federal prohibition has stopped most doctors from working with pot. Where do people figure out how pot can help them?
That's where Aggarwal comes in. He is a board-certified physician with an MD and PhD from the University of Washington who isn't afraid to wade into the legally-fraught waters of medicinal cannabis. Federal law prevents him from directly prescribing pot, but his Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute (AIMS) solves this problem in two simple steps. On one side is the medical staff like Aggarwal, who diagnose and provide medical evaluations for patients; on the other side (in a legally separate business down a hallway) are consultants that find specific products for the patient.
It's hard to overstate how important this second function is. There are thousands of new pot products released every year, and a significant portion of them are snake oil that should be avoided. There are also innovative new products full of previously unheard of pot compounds like CBG, CBN, CBC, and THCV. Keeping track of this market takes an expert like Mary Brown, one of the consultants that work with the AIMS Institute.
Brown specifically told me not to call her an expert because the market "is constantly changing" thanks to "so many aspects involving product development." But her response only makes her more of an expert in my book, because unlike the arrogant and/or indifferent budtender down the street, she actually appreciates how complicated the pot market is right now. Even stoners get confused by all of these new products.
"We expect the need to educate certain clientele, but even those who have had extensive personal cannabis use experience in the past are often astounded by the current choice in retail stores," Brown said. "Additionally, the varied information on the internet that is floating around just adds to the confusion."
Brown cuts through that confusion by finding the specific product and brand that best suits the patient's situation. It might be something that you can buy from a Washington pot dispensary, but increasingly it's a product that can be found online for far cheaper thanks to recent changes in the legality of CBD.
Aggarwal helps the patient diagnose and treat their disorder, while Brown finds the exact product that the patient needs. It's a beautifully simple system that is long overdue. If you want to treat anything from arthritis to anxiety to cancer with cannabis, you should consult with someone like Aggarwal first.