What you should know about medical cannabis

Medical cannabis refers to the use of the cannabis (marijuana) plant or its extracts to treat symptoms of illness. Medical cannabis does NOT cure cancer. However, two compounds found in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — may help relieve symptoms related to cancer and treatment including pain, nausea, poor appetite, insomnia, and muscle spasms. Research for new applications for medical cannabis is ongoing.

In 2015, New York State (NYS) legalized medical cannabis, also called medical marijuana, for certain conditions. Over the years, the program became less restrictive and in 2021, NYS legalized possession and use of recreational cannabis for adults, aged 21 and older. Medical and recreational cannabis are still illegal under federal law. Medical cannabis you legally obtained in other states, may not be legally used in New York.

There have been changes in the State’s medical cannabis program. Practitioners must qualify through the State to certify patients for medical cannabis. Once qualified, practitioners can certify patients for medical cannabis for any condition, based on the practitioner’s clinical discretion. There is no longer a list of qualifying conditions. Based on your medical history, you may be certified for any product, or for oral nonsmoking products only.

How does it work?

1. Get certified. Contact your healthcare provider to see if you may benefit from the use of medical cannabis and if so, to be certified.

2. Register online. Once certified, register through the online Patient Registration System. In the DMV ID field, enter your NY Driver’s License ID number or your non-driver ID number. If you do not have either of these IDs, you can also register at the link above by clicking on “Patient Registration Instructions.” Once approved, a temporary registry ID card can be printed and used immediately. (A registry ID card will be mailed to you.) You may name up to five caregivers to assist in purchasing or administering the medical cannabis after they have registered, too. Learn how caregivers can register.

3. Purchase. Visit a registered organization's medical cannabis dispensing facility to purchase products. Bring your certification form and your registry ID card (or temporary registry ID card). You will work with the dispensary staff to choose products that best suit your needs.

4. Monitoring. The prescribing clinic will require a toxicology screen (urine test) before you begin using medical cannabis. Cannabis is a controlled substance, and we will monitor your use of this drug. It is expected you will obtain the drug from a dispensary. This will be verified by the certifying provider on the NYS Prescription Monitoring Program website.

Forms of medical cannabis available in New York state

Registered organizations may only manufacture cannabis products in forms approved by the NYS Office of Cannabis Management. Specific products may vary between dispensaries. Some examples:

  • Vape cartridge/pen takes effect quickly, but effects may be short-lived. There is risk of “vape illness,” a bacterial lung infection. Metered ground plant preparation or “whole flower” cannabis is also used by vaporization. Inhaled cannabis should be avoided in those with immunocompromised status.
  • Oral products include capsules, tablets, tinctures, oils, lozenges, oral spray, oral powder, and gummies. These take effect more slowly, but effects may last longer.
  • Topical creams to apply to the skin.

Learn more about cannabis research

Roswell Park's Center for Translational Research on Cannabis and Cancer works toward the goal of learning how cannabis use impacts an individual's health and well-being.

Read more

Cost and insurance

At this time, medical cannabis is not covered by insurance. A bill to mandate medical marijuana insurance coverage was passed by the New York State Senate in June 2022 but is not yet law. Medical cannabis can range from $80-$130 for once-daily use and is more expensive if used more often. You may want to start with a 5-day supply (instead of a 30-day supply) to see how effective it is for you. Unused product cannot be returned to a dispensary.

Medical cannabis at Roswell Park

Roswell Park has a medical marijuana policy that addresses the needs and concerns of patients, caregivers, and practitioners who are registered with the NYS Medical Cannabis Program.

  • Roswell Park’s no-smoking policy applies to all marijuana products and therefore inhaled or vaporized marijuana products cannot be used on grounds of Roswell Park.
  • Roswell Park is not a medical marijuana dispensary and medical marijuana is not on Roswell Park’s formulary. (Roswell Park does not dispense or administer any marijuana products.)
  • Roswell Park’s policy outlines the procedures that our staff need to follow when a patient, registered in the NYS Medical Cannabis Program, wants to self-administer their legally obtained medical cannabis products while an inpatient. Self-administration is the responsibility of the registered patient or caregiver, not the nursing staff.
  • At discharge, or if a patient can’t self-administer and they don’t have a certified caregiver, medical cannabis products will be returned to the family/designee to remove from Roswell Park.
  • Please note: The use of medical cannabis may disqualify you from participating in some clinical trials.

Helpful resources