First, the good news: By the end of September, 2016, approximately 100,000 Canadians were legally registered with Licensed Producers to obtain medical cannabis. This is an astonishing increase of nearly 70,000 (233%) compared to the same period a year earlier. At the same time, the number of physicians writing authorization documents also increased over 200%. That said, the actual number of enlightened doctors remains too small, particularly in rural areas.
What continues to be discouraging, however, is the lack of medical cannabis knowledge available from most physicians, even as more and more patients seek advice on the subject. Although there’s a growing number of online physician-directed resources and conference presentations on medical cannabis, the fact remains that most doctors graduated from medical schools that provided little or no information on cannabis in the treatment of illness.
Family doctor and professor at the University of Toronto Alan Bell observes that, “As physicians, we are very reluctant to authorize the use of any medications without adequate education. That’s a real barrier.”
Further objections come from the fact that cannabis treatment has not yet been subjected to the amount of rigorous testing applied to conventional prescription medicines. Although extracts—with precisely measured levels of cannabinoids such as CBD—are now legally available, standard dosages have not yet been established. Whole flower cannabis, preferred by many patients, comes in a bewilderingly wide variety of strains, each of which can vary significantly in potencies and ratios of active ingredients. All of this bolsters the unwillingness of a doctor to advise patients to “take three puffs and call me in the morning.”
Where does this leave the patient who, for example, suffers from chronic pain and the often-debilitating side effects of the conventional pain medications such as opioids? Perhaps they’ve heard that cannabis may help and are eager to try it, but can’t find a physician or healthcare practitioner in their community willing to write the medical document necessary to obtain medical cannabis legally from a Licensed Producer.
This lack of access to the legal system compels many patients to obtain untested black market cannabis from a local supplier who may or may not have patients’ best interests at heart.
We’re witnessing a movement that’s perhaps unprecedented in modern medicine, where members of the general public appear to be leading the way, educating themselves (and, often, their physicians) on methods that may provide safe, effective relief for themselves or loved ones.
CMCC’s member LPs are working to rectify this situation through direct outreach and education initiatives aimed at healthcare providers and the non-profit patient organizations that make up the CMCC Patient Advisory Committee are committed to improving safe access to medical cannabis for critically and chronically ill Canadians who might benefit from its use.
To learn more, please click here to check out our video highlighting our current patient access initiatives.