Resources for Patients

A Note From the Executive Director

steph_norml.jpgIn 2000, I sustained a severe injury that left me with lack of mobility in my neck, neurological spasms, and severe chronic pain. I had to take painkillers, muscle relaxants, and high doses of ibuprofen to relieve the pain and calm the spasms. After about a year, I started having problems with my stomach and kidneys as a result of the medications. Six months later, my doctor put me on diuretics and warned me that I might have to start dialysis. I was 23 years old and terrified.

Then one day, my doctor shut the exam-room door behind him and asked me in a whisper, "Do you smoke marijuana?" When I said no, he asked, "Do you know anyone who does?"  thought he was trying to buy marijuana from me! My doctor quickly reassured me. He explained that he did not know very
much about medical cannabis, but he had seen a few patients with similar intolerance to pain medications who had cut their medication intake by at least half by using cannabis. He said he did not want to put me on dialysis. If I could find some marijuana, we should try it.

It was the first time that I had ever really thought about marijuana as medicine. I probably had the same amount of information on the subject that most Americans had at the time. I was in favor of it in principle, but I did not know anything about the law. Of course, I did not want sick people to go to jail for following their doctors' advice, but I had never heard about the emerging scientific research or considered the needs of patients. I thought medical cannabis was only for dying people with AIDS or cancer. Now I was facing my own medical crisis and the choice between dialysis and cannabis seemed an easy one to make, regardless of the law.

But information about cannabis as medicine was extremely hard to find. I started calling friends, and friends of friends, to try to find access to the plant, but none of these individuals could really explain how to use cannabis as a medicine, what delivery systems were available to me, or how cannabis worked. I felt alone as I started experimenting with the medicine. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

After months of going at this alone, a friend told me about a few medical cannabis centers in California's San Francisco Bay Area. The successful use of cannabis therapeutics in my life is a direct result of the guidance I received from the staff of one of these facilities.

Access means Action

So much has changed over the past 13 years. New resources, such as this website, make learning about cannabis therapeutics and the laws an easier for patients. But the battle for safe and legal access to this medication rages on.

Medical cannabis patients and their providers remain vulnerable to federal and state raids, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. As a result, these individuals may suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, public accommodation, education and medical care. Laws protecting patients and their providers vary from state to state and, in some cases, may even vary from county to county or city to city. Many sick or injured Americans choose to break outdated state laws that do not account for medical use or access to the medicine their doctor recommends. And no matter what state you are living in, medical cannabis patients and their providers are always violating federal law.

The history of medical cannabis in the US is filled with stories of heroic patients who laid the foundation of safe access and built a movement. At the heart of this movement are the people who are willing to commit daily acts of civil disobedience to provide safe access for patients like me—people willing to stand up against injustice, to fight in the courtroom, to spend their last days concerned about the welfare of others.

My experience convinced me to work with other medical cannabis stakeholders to create an organization that would stand up for the rights of all Americans like me who are seeking safe access, as well as the rights of those willing to provide our medicine. As a cannabis patient, it was my turn, my responsibility, and my honor.

I have had the privilege of working with dedicated activists across the country, as well as an extremely talented staff. From my many teachers along the way and the challenges we have overcome, I've learned that a thorough understanding of the complex realities "on the ground" is the key to catalyzing collective action. 

Until ASA members stood up for access, the national debate around medical cannabis was focused solely on the legality and ethics of arresting and prosecuting patients for cannabis usage. That injustice is real, but reflected only a fraction of the challenges that this community confronted on a daily basis. We cannot create good policy without including the voices and experiences of patients and those who provide them with access. That is what ASA members have brought to this movement; that is what WE can bring to every state and the country as a whole.

By participating in this movement, you are helping create the future of medical cannabis in your city, state, and nation. My hope is that, as you discover the utility of cannabis as a therapeutic agent in your life, you will also join this powerful movement to create safe and legal access for everyone who needs it.



Steph Sherer
Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Safe Access

In This Section

Becoming a State-Authorized Patient

The laws and regulations pertaining to state medical cannabis programs change rapidly, so it's critically important that patients stay up to date on information pertaining to their state.

Talking to your doctor

Be forthright. There is nothing wrong or illegal about discussing medical cannabis with your doctor. Federal courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects doctors in discussing medical cannabis and recommending it to their patients. Doctors are accustomed to patients bringing ideas to them about treatment options and preferences, and cannabis therapeutics should be no different.

Cannabis Safety

Cannabis and its psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, have an excellent safety profile. The Drug Awareness Warning Network Annual Report, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), contains a statistical compilation of all drug deaths which occur in the United States. According to this report, there has never been a death recorded from the use of cannabis.

What the Science Says

The documented use of cannabis as a safe and effective therapeutic botanical dates to 2700 BC. Between 1840 and 1900, European and American journals of medicine published more than 100 articles on the therapeutic use of cannabis. In fact, cannabis was part of the American pharmacopoeia until 1942, and is currently available by prescription in Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.

Guide to using medical cannabis

Cannabis leaves and flowers are consumed in several forms: dried flower buds or various types of concentrated, loose, or pressed resin extracted from the flowers or leaves through a variety of methods. Once mature, the plant’s leaves and flowers are covered with trichomes, tiny glands of resinous oil containing cannabinoids and terpenes that provide physical and psychoactive effects.

Growing Tips

First-time cannabis growers should start with a soil-based system rather than other more complicated methods such as hydroponics. Your first harvest will help you get the feel for the growth and life cycle of cannabis. This will help you build confidence that things are going well for your next harvest.

Recipes for non-inhalation delivery methods

The following recipes come from the Vancouver Island Compassion Society ( Please note that not all state medical cannabis laws allow for cannabis concentrates. Where they do not, manufacture or possession of these substances usually carries serious penalties.

Knowing Your Rights

Medical cannabis patients and their providers are vulnerable to federal and state raids, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. As a result, these individuals may suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, public accommodation, education and medical care. Laws protecting patients and their providers vary from state to state and, in some cases, may vary from county to county. Many individuals choose to break outdated state laws that do not account for medical use or their access.

Resources for Your Doctor and Family

Highly informative booklets on the use of cannabis to treat HIV/AIDS (pdf), Multiple Sclerosis (pdf), Arthritis, Gastro-Intestinal Disorders, Movement Disorders, Cancer, Chronic Pain, and issues associated with Aging.

Become a Medical Cannabis Advocate

Connect with local ASA Chapters, Action Groups and Affiliates in your area to get started. Also learn how to start your own Chapter or Action Group, or how to become an Affiliate if there are none in your area.

Facing state or federal charges?

Unfortunately, patients, caregivers, and providers are still vulnerable to federal and state arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration. They also suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, public accommodation, education and medical care. If you are arrested for a marijuana offense and the prosecutor files charges, you will first face an arraignment, where you will plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have various motions hearings and eventually you may go to trial before a jury or judge, and the process may take a significant amount of time. The information below has been created to help navigate you through this process.

Purchase A Patients' Guide to Medical Cannabis On Kindle

This guide for patients who use medical marijuana (cannabis) covers everything you need to know. Created by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a non-profit advocacy organization, this publication will help individuals who are using or considering cannabis treatments to better educate themselves, their families and their physicians. ASA has been developing information resources about medical marijuana (cannabis) for patients, their families, doctors, and elected officials for over a decade. All proceeds raised from the sale of this publication go to promote the work of Americans for Safe Access.