There are more than 80,000 licensed doctors in Florida, but just over 2,000 are currently qualified to prescribe medical marijuana to patients. That huge gap could be the result of a relatively new industry.
Returning from Iraq after the deadliest year for U.S. soldiers in the war, a local veteran said his life was completely different.
"I was just kind of like, I felt like a shell of a person," said the soldier who wanted to go by Jake.
Jake said he was on prescribed medications that numbed him. He started looking into alternatives like medical marijuana.
"I was a little hesitant because of the stigma attached to it from working in military all my adult life. It was something kind of frowned upon," Jake said.
But he found a doctor who helped guide him. Now, Jake is on a CBD and THC mix.
"I take a pill at night time and I sleep like a baby," said Jake.
But not all patients can find the right doctor or right medication combination so quickly. There are more than 100,000 active medical marijuana holders in the state but only 2,212 doctors qualified to prescribe medical marijuana, according to Florida's Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
"They’re afraid because some of the patients think it’s not right or it’s wrong," said Dr. Ahmed El-Haddad, a critical care doctor who's qualified to prescribe medical marijuana.
Dr. El-Haddad said he started prescribing medical marijuana for about a year and half and became passionate about researching cannabis.
"I think there are a lot of doctors doing this that they really don’t know how to prescribe the medication properly," Dr. El-Haddad said.
And that could be because the state’s requirements went from an eight-hour online course to a two-hour course in 2017.
"I think the website for the state of the training needs to be more advanced to describe dosage and routes and specific medication for specific disease processes," said Dr. El-Haddad.
The use of medical marijuana is also still illegal on the federal level. There is no standard medical school curriculum on it.
"You have to do your own research and your investigation, what the right dosage, what the milligrams are," said Dr. El-Haddad.
And for patients like Jake, the cost is pretty high. He spends about $150 a month on medical marijuana. Finding a doctor that can prescribe the right dosage and strain that works is crucial.
"I would like to see more people have awareness of this medicine and how well it works and not to be afraid of the stigma that comes with using medical marijuana," said Jake.
Dr. El-Haddad said when he first started prescribing medical marjuana, he also visited all of the local dispensaries to learn more about the strains they offered and noted that each dispensary has different name for its medication and different THC and CBD concentrations.
To learn if you're eligible for a medical marijuana prescription, click here.
To find qualified doctors, click here.