May 1 through 7 marks National Hospice Palliative Care Week. The event originates with the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, an organization that became an important new member of the Patient Advisory Council of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council in December, 2015. At that time, CMCC Interim Executive Director Philippe Lucas commented, “The group offers the medical cannabis industry a valuable perspective related to ethical, compassionate end-of-life care that puts patients’ best interests first.”

More Canadian doctors are considering, advocating and prescribing the use of cannabis in palliative care. A growing body of evidence supports its use in relieving the chronic pain that accompanies late stages of cancer, for example, often exhibiting a synergistic effect when used in conjunction with traditional painkillers. Indeed, some patients using cannabis report decreased use of opioids and a corresponding reduction in negative side effects.

Cannabis is also being cited for its effects on increasing appetite and lowering anxiety, two major concerns of patients in palliative care.

However, strict no-smoking policies of nearly all healthcare facilities are all too often obstacles to access, even for those in end-of-life circumstances. The solution is to explore changes that would allow the use of vaporizers and increased access to orally administered cannabis. There is a pressing need to increase awareness of cannabis’ potential in this area, as doctors, patients and their families deserve to have access to all viable treatment options in palliative care settings.