Avoiding a Major Pitfall: Playing Doctor

Raise your hand if you’re a licensed medical doctor.

This article was written by Amber Bacca, CEO of Trax Team Solutions, and Lead Cannabis Trainers’ Facilitator. 

I’m guessing none or very few of the well-intentioned, outstanding cannabis industry workers reading this are able to do so.

Most of us are involved in the cannabis industry because we care. We believe in the power of the plant and we seek to help people harness the medicine that can be derived from it. Budtenders are literally on the front lines of our movement; navigating hundreds of regulations, staying current on cannabis science and the hundreds of products that hit the shelves every year. They relay as much of this information as they can to cannabis consumers while providing excellent customer service. Budtenders truly are renaissance people and deserve more credit than they often receive for the tough job they perform each and every day.

As our industry expands, so does the list of potential risks and our exposure to them. It is no longer enough to focus our efforts on achieving state cannabis compliance. There is a giant growing spotlight on our businesses and their operations, as the entire world is watching to see how the grand experiment of cannabis legalization will turn out. We must navigate many layers of compliance including, but not limited to OSHA, HIPAA, and even the FCC. As our industry is further woven into the fabric of our society, regulators want to ensure that we’re upholding our end of the bargain; which is to conduct our businesses legally with public safety at the forefront.

One such risk is the major dispensary agent/budtender pitfall of providing medical advice. Many of us have witnessed the power of the plant over and over again. We’ve listened to the stories of hundreds or thousands of people who have found relief and healing from cannabis. Experienced budtenders feel confident when telling consumers which products will work best for them, based on a growing mountain of evidence. This is one of the best parts of the job, but it’s also one of the most dangerous and budtenders must take care to ensure they are not providing medical advice.

Medical advice is what is provided when an individual is performing the practice of medicine. The exact definition of the practice of medicine is different in each state. However, each definition is similar. For example, according to Washington state law, an individual is practicing medicine if her or she:

“Offers or undertakes to diagnose, cure, advise, or prescribe for any human disease, ailment, injury, infirmity, deformity, pain or other condition, physical or mental, real or imaginary, by any means or instrumentality.”

When dispensary agents/budtenders tell individuals that a specific product or strain will garner a specific effect in any state, they are in fact practicing medicine without a license, which is illegal and could result in serious repercussions.

Each state has its own medical board whose primary task is to protect the public by ensuring that those who provide medical advice have received adequate training to be able to do so. Medical practitioners of all types receive years of training on all sorts of minute details to reach the point where they can be licensed by their respective states. Once licensed, these individuals can legally practice medicine, but are expected to do so in the most responsible means possible in order to avoid harming patients.

There are several important reasons why dispensary agents/budtenders should be trained on how to perform their jobs effectively without providing medical advice:

  • In general, budtenders have not received adequate medical training to be able to effectively prescribe treatments or products. Budtenders can read hundreds of online studies and there will still be knowledge gaps that they are unaware of.


  • Even medical professionals will not and should not provide medical advice to individuals without examining them or at the very least, reviewing their full medical history. Budtenders never have a complete understanding of a consumer’s full medical history and are therefore unable to ensure the advice is sound.


  • No two individuals will ever experience the same effect from the same cannabis product. Our body chemistries are different as are our tolerance levels. We’ve barely scratched the surface of fully understanding the cannabis plant and how people uptake it’s many wonderful beneficial qualities.


  • Individuals who practice medicine without a license may face various legal ramifications including jail time, fines, as well as financial restitution to those who are unintentionally harmed.
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So how do we steer consumers towards the products that will work best for them?

  • First and foremost, you must never tell someone that a particular product will result in a specific effect for them.

You may provide anecdotal information based on personal experience, the stories of others, or research.

Instead of saying, “this edible will help you sleep,” you can say, “I ate this edible last week and it helped me sleep.”

Rather than saying, “your pain will be reduced if you use this strain,” you may say, “many of our patients have experienced reduced levels of pain after using this strain.”

Instead of, “using this vape pen will give you more energy,” it would be better to say, “I’ve read a lot of articles about this vape pen and most people feel energized when they use it.

  • A best practice is to encourage consumers to start a journal so they can identify what works best for them. Suggesting a cannabis journal opens up the discussion and further reiterates that just because something works a certain way for one person, doesn’t mean it will be the same for them.

“We want to find the best options for you and your symptoms, but it’s important that you write down what worked well and what didn’t so we can continue finding products that work for you. Share your Journal with your doctor and medical team to discuss how cannabis is impacting you. Bring your journal next time you come in to see me and we’ll take a look at it together.”

Framing the conversation this way sets consumers up for success by managing their expectations, communicating the fact that it may take some time to figure out what works best for them. It also shows that you care and that you’re committed to helping them through the process.

By avoiding this particular dispensary agent/budtender pitfall, we can not only ensure that we’re helping cannabis consumers in the most responsible, effective means possible, we’re helping to ensure the longevity of the industry as a whole by demonstrating our commitment to compliance and public safety.

What could your team do better or differently to avoid the “playing doctor” pitfall? Let us know in the comments below!


We welcome you to find out more about Amber at www.TraxTeamSolutions.com

Amber is also one of our Lead Facilitators and leads our Sell-SMaRT™ Responsible Vendor Training courses.  


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