STEVE LOPEZ

High fashion in the medicinal high business

She ran a family practice and clinic in Hollywood, but grew weary of prescribing pharmaceuticals with potentially serious side effects to patients suffering from diabetes, AIDS, migraines and other maladies. Some of those patients asked if she would recommend marijuana instead.

"I began to research it and incorporated it into my practice," Patel said.

To her surprise, patients often got greater relief from pot than from prescription drugs -- and they reported no side effects. In 2007, she shut down her family practice on Sunset and went herbal all the way on Melrose. Her answer to the obvious question? Yes, the money is better.

Patel told me she worked briefly in San Francisco and was the subject of an unflattering TV news story in which two TV producers said that getting a recommendation from her was laughably easy. The story, which I later checked, also noted that Patel was in hot pants and high heels on materials advertising her business, and that she used the name Doc 420, the 420 being street slang for marijuana. We've come a long way since Marcus Welby.

The story was a distortion, Patel insisted.

Well, whatever. I still find the high heels and lab coat a little strange, but it also seems weird that I can legally buy buds in virtually every corner of the city because a gynecologist said I could.

Patel said she now sees 15 to 20 patients daily and said she generally spends 30 minutes or so with each, and she reviews their medical records before recommending marijuana. On average, Patel said, she denies recommendations for between two and five patients daily who don't prove a medical need.

I should note here that before I met Dr. Patel, I got an e-mail from a patient who was upset about her denying him a recommendation, and that was one reason I wanted to meet her.

Patel said that if you haven't been previously diagnosed with a condition that has existed for at least six months, and you haven't tried conventional medicine, don't bother making an appointment with her.

But she's convinced that marijuana, used properly, is improving the quality of life for many patients who got no such relief from prescription drugs.

If marijuana becomes completely legal, regulated and taxed in California -- which is where we ought to go, if you ask me, ending the bogus drug war and the dispensary/recommendation charade -- it might mean the end of Dr. Patel's business.

If so, she said, she won't go back to conventional medicine. She might instead go back to school and study various Eastern and alternative medicines.

That would cost a ton.

But modeling got her through school once, and she's still got the high heels.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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