Anyone who has had more than a cursory experience with conventional, modern medicine knows that it has its flaws. From rushed primary care physician visits to the side effects of prescription medications, the whole experience can be impersonal and deeply frustrating for many patients. Patients with chronic pain or fatigue, mental health conditions such as PTSD or anxiety, or other ongoing health conditions often find themselves bogged down with appointment after appointment, with no relief in sight.

Integrative and functional medicine both take a different approach to healthcare. In this blog, we will take a closer look at what they are, what they have in common and how they differ from modern medicine as we typically experience it. Last, we will examine the role cannabis plays in these approaches to medicine and health.

What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with complementary and alternative medicine, focusing on practices that have a proven level of effectiveness. Integrative medicine can treat many medical conditions, including difficult-to-treat ones like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain and anxiety.

Some of the methods integrative medicine practitioners may use to complement conventional medicine include:

  • Aromatherapy.
  • Meditation.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Nutritional supplements.
  • Massage therapy.
  • Yoga.

Integrative medicine seeks to treat the whole person and encourage patients to adopt lifestyle habits that improve their overall health. While conventional medicine tends to focus more on symptoms, integrative medicine takes a more holistic approach.

What Is Functional Medicine?

Integrative and Functional Medicine

Functional medicine, like integrative medicine, uses both conventional medicine and alternative medicine to treat patients. With functional medicine, practitioners try to get to the root cause of diseases. The practice focuses on the individual and developing a partnership between practitioners and patient. It assumes that every patient is unique and that the root cause of disease for one person may not be the same for another.

To identify underlying causes, functional medicine practitioners may do extensive diagnostic work, take lengthy histories and learn about a patient’s environment and genetic background. Once practitioners have found the root cause, they develop a personalized plan for their patients, which may include alternative practices such as meditation and acupuncture, diet and exercise recommendations, and conventional prescription medications.

Integrative Medicine vs. Functional Medicine

Integrative and functional medicine have several similarities, including:

  • Providing patient-centered care.
  • Developing a partnership between doctors and patients.
  • Using alternative and complementary medicine that is backed by evidence to treat patients.
  • Using conventional treatment recommendations to treat patients.
  • Treating the whole person rather than just the symptom or disease.

The main difference between the two is that functional medicine advocates for digging deeply into a patient’s background and environment to find a root cause, while integrative medicine focuses on treating the condition at hand.

Cannabis’s Role in Alternative and Complementary Medicine

Integrative and Functional Medicine

In general, practices are considered alternative if patients use them instead of conventional medicine, and complementary if they are used in conjunction with conventional medicine.

Both integrative and functional medicine practitioners may recommend cannabis to help with chronic pain, alleviate nausea, manage anxiety and more. Cannabis is considered to be an alternative or complementary medical treatment, in part because of its continued status as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. This has limited research into cannabis in the United States, although the pace of research has picked up significantly in recent years, especially overseas.

Integrative and functional medicine practitioners do not always recommend using cannabis instead of conventional medicine. Some prescription medications, for example, are beneficial and should be continued. In such cases, practitioners may recommend cannabis use to complement other treatment approaches.

Finding Effective Treatment

Ultimately, the best medical practitioner is one that you feel comfortable with and who makes recommendations that fit you and your lifestyle. Is cannabis one of those options? If you are new to medical cannabis or would like to learn more, check out our interactive guide to medical cannabis for seniors.

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