A Physician Transitions to Advocate

Ron Elfenbein, M.D. was not always a supporter of medical cannabis. Then he met a patient with advanced pancreatic cancer. The woman’s oncologist would not write her the recommendation for medical cannabis that she so desperately needed to control her pain. “This patient was in chronic pain, nothing was working, and she didn’t want to be stuck taking mind-numbing opiates for the remainder of her life. Recommending medical cannabis truly helped her live better in the late stages of her disease,” explained Elfenbein.

After years of practicing as a critical care physician in an emergency room, Dr. Elfenbein certainly saw his fair share of patients. It wasn’t until he encountered this patient living with this terminal disease that he fully understood the therapeutic benefits of cannabis as medicine. The experience affected him deeply and changed his view of medical cannabis.

While this change of heart didn’t happen overnight, his passion for helping people in their time of medical need eventually led him to become a strong supporter. “I originally thought that cannabis was a slippery slope to using other drugs. At first, I just didn’t see its place in the medical field. Then, I started hearing from physicians I knew whose patients greatly benefited from its therapeutic properties. I started researching the efficacy of this medicine. After digging deeper, I realized there are patients who can benefit in ways we haven’t realized, and in ways we can see and measure,” he explained.  

Filling the Gap in Medical Care

Dr. Elfenbein continues caring for patients as an emergency room doctor and as owner and medical director of Chesapeake ERgent Care, a full-service urgent care center in Gambrills, Maryland. His foray into medical cannabis began in May 2018 when he launched Holistic Medicine, LLC, to provide recommendations for medical cannabis to patients who need it most. The company was developed to fill a large void in the medical industry. “The number of physicians signed up to be recommenders for medical cannabis in Maryland is small and the patient population that needs it is quite large. Many doctors fear the stigma associated with cannabis and shy away from becoming a recommending physician. There are so many patients who can benefit from medical cannabis. It was time to overcome that stigma and provide a needed service to the public,” he added.

Recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis, Dr. Elfenbein wants to make sure that patients who need it have access to the medicine. “The patients we see must have explored all other avenues for remedying their ailments. When we see them, we provide a medical exam that is focused on the condition that has brought them to us. And, if medical cannabis is recommended and filled at a local dispensary, patients need to follow up with us every 90 days, which is in line with the MedChi recommendations. This helps us ensure that every patient is receiving the safe and effective care they need.”

Just Scratching the Surface

Dr. Elfenbein acknowledges that the turnaround in his opinions about cannabis was influenced by the many people who have been helped by its therapeutic properties. “We’re just scratching the surface of the healing uses of medical cannabis,” he says, citing reports of medical cannabis and its benefits for people living with diabetes, hypertension, cancer, epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases.

He believes that the biggest promise for cannabis lies in helping fight the opioid epidemic facing our nation. “Medical cannabis can offer a huge benefit for people who use opioids that hasn’t really been tapped into yet. Getting people off of opioids and onto cannabis could really stave off addiction.”

He’s keen on using his role as a CannabizMD Advisory Board member to become more involved in research studies into using medical cannabis as a viable alternative to prescription opioids, and even its efficacy in fighting alcohol addiction. “If we can get people more highly functional and off these opioids that destroy their lives, their families, jobs, and their marriages, then it’s a win-win for everybody.”