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Cannabis is an ancient medicine, but after years of prohibition, many Canadians are curious about the new legalized medical options for prescription marijuana.

So to help answer your questions, we spoke with Bryan Hendin, president of Apollo Applied Research, and Gill Polard, marketing director for the Lift Resource Centres. Both Apollo and Lift run medical marijuana clinics with locations across the country. Apollo also conducts cannabis research, while Lift Resources Centres are associated with Lift News, Canada’s leading cannabis industry website.

Who can benefit from medical cannabis?

Some jurisdictions maintain a master list of qualifying conditions that patients must meet to get a legal marijuana prescription. In Canada, however, the process is much more individualized: If you’re interested in trying prescription cannabis and your doctor agrees to prescribe it, you qualify.

“Many of our patients suffer from chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, cancer and insomnia,” says Hendin. “But this list is by no means exhaustive.”

In addition to these ailments, Polard notes that cannabis can reduce epileptic spasms and ease painful eye pressure caused by glaucoma. She also adds that “preliminary research… shows that cannabinoids can hinder cancer cell growth.”

Who shouldn’t use medical cannabis?

“Patients with a personal or family history of psychosis, a current or past cannabis or substance abuse disorder, and patients with cardiovascular or respiratory disease are typically not prescribed cannabis, unless there are extenuating circumstances meriting treatment,” says Hendin.

Same goes for pregnant and nursing mothers, patients taking antiviral drugs or medications that slow the central nervous system, and most patients under the age of 25.

Where does the prescription process start?

Both Polard and Hendin recommend starting a conversation about it with your family doctor, but be prepared for pushback. “The long history of stigma associated with cannabis has made it difficult for information about the medical value to reach many doctors,” says Polard. “There is quite a bit of research available online and I would direct you to websites like the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and Cannabinoids Medicines for more information. Print out anything you find that might help your doctor understand why you think cannabis may be a viable treatment option.”

Hendin agrees. “Having a dialogue about the benefits and determents of cannabinoid therapy can help you discover the basis for your GP’s beliefs,” he says. “Your physician is looking out for your best interest, and if they have a valid medical reason not to try medical cannabis, it is advisable to take weighted consideration of you GP’s recommendations.”

If your GP refuses to prescribe, and it’s still something you want to explore, visit a medical cannabis clinic.

What should I bring to my first appointment at the cannabis clinic?

Bring any official documentation you have describing your medical condition and needs. If you’re not sure that your documents or condition will qualify, call your chosen clinic and ask before making an appointment.

“Examples of medical documents that justify an appointment with one of our physicians include a referral letter, a prescription bottle, a note from your doctor, consultation notes, MRI/X-Ray results, a hospital discharge summary or an accident report,” says Hendin.

What if I live far from a marijuana clinic?

Apollo clinics and Lift Resource Centres both offer remote consultations; Apollo uses the Ontario Telemedicine Network for secure teleconferences, while Lift centres use My Virtual Clinic software for secure virtual consultations. Other clinics use similar government-approved software, so call your preferred clinic for details.

Will a cannabis prescription get me stoned?

Medical cannabis research is still in its infancy, but presently two main plant components will have the greatest influence on you: THC and CBD. THC is the ingredient most associated with the marijuana high – as well as some of the plant’s less savoury side effects, like paranoia and anxiety, while CBD is connected with its calming, anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects. Different strains of marijuana contain different proportions of these along with other cannabinoids. But, most licensed producers offer a CBD-only version with negligible psychoactive effects, which is typically used to treat inflammation, anxiety or spasms.

Patients with recreational experience are often wary of psychoactive side effects, but it’s worth noting that recreational users rarely had access to the kind of information medical producers now offer: Clearly labelled products, with exact THC and CBD measurements.

Every person reacts differently to marijuana, depending on the strain and their individual endocannabinoid system, but many patients report therapeutic relief from “micro-doses” in much lower strengths than they may have been exposed to during prohibition. (Prohibition favoured THC products that could deliver the biggest bang in the smallest, most easily smuggled buds.) The medical industry’s mantra is “start low and go slow.”

Do I have to smoke?

Absolutely not. Most doctors recommend using a vapourizer, for fast-acting, short-lived effects, or ingesting cannabis-infused oils for a slower-acting, longer-lasting impact.

So, I have my prescription. What’s next?

“Once you have a prescription, you need to register as a patient with a licensed producer (LP) to acquire your medical cannabis legally,” says Polard. Although some dispensaries require customers to provide proof of a medical prescription, many are operating outside the law. For now, these 38 LPs are the only legal sources of prescription cannabis. Once you’ve registered with an LP, you’ll place your order by phone or online and it’ll be delivered to your door by courier or post.

How do I choose my LP?

“A patient is free to choose whichever licensed producer they like,” says Hendin, although he suggests that patients follow their doctor’s advice when choosing a provider. Polard recommends visiting LPs’ websites and checking out their prices, strain availability, waiting times and return policies. Patients can split their prescription between a maximum of two LPs.

Cannabis is expensive! Will insurance cover a prescription? Can it be written off?

Some insurers cover the costs of prescription cannabis, but most don’t. Come tax time, prescription cannabis costs are considered an eligible medical expense, so you’ll be able to claim them on your tax return.

And let’s be honest, getting safe, legal cannabis is worth the expense.

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