Since the recreational legalization of Cannabis, there has been a lot of buzz about this plant. However, using cannabis for medical purposes has been around for thousands of years. Commonly called Marijuana, cannabis also goes by many other slang terms such as weed, reefer, devil’s lettuce and many more. Although lots of the recent buzz around this drug has come from the recreational side, it is also a medical drug. In fact, Cannabis has been legal in Canada for medical purposes since 2001. To date over 350,000 prescriptions have been written, by over 18,000 doctors (Health Canada), the majority of which were in the past 3 years.
In this article, we will cover some common questions:
About Medical Cannabis
What uses does medical cannabis have?
Doctors prescribe cannabis most commonly for chronic pain, nausea (often from chemotherapy) and sleep issues. Also, muscle spasms from MS, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression, irritable bowel, and a few other conditions are utilizing cannabis to remedy them. Medical cannabis is authorized to treat an average of 20 different conditions throughout the 33 US states that have legalized it.
Why the interest?
Because some people are seeing miracle-like results. You may have heard an anecdote or two about how so-and-so tried cannabis and now is taking up ballroom dancing again after 30 years. Or as a result of cannabis use, so-and-so’s mother is able to reduce or eliminate some of the other drugs she was taking. While these stories are promising, cannabis isn’t for everyone. For certain conditions and certain individuals, cannabis has been an effective treatment. But it is not a wonder-drug. In addition, the variety in products (e.g. flower, oil, gel caps), treatment protocols and patient responses creates some confusion over what exactly will help a condition. Also, there are risks, even if they are relatively low. As a result, people seeking therapeutic outcomes continue to seek the help and advice of medical professionals.
Does medical cannabis make you “high”?
For most people using cannabis in a medically prescribed manner, it does not. Therapeutic doses are lower than those that cause intoxication. Also, some conditions are treated with the CBD component separated from cannabis, which is not intoxicating. As opposed to the other component, THC, which can be intoxicating in large enough amounts.
Getting Medical Cannabis
Why aren’t more doctors prescribing it?
There are a few major reasons that are keeping some doctors back. Firstly, is the lack of research and evidence into both the potential benefits and the potential harms. There’s a big difference between what we know (from research) and what we believe (from patient anecdotes). The gap is closing, but it takes time and money. And compared with the investments that big pharmaceutical companies can make, the cannabis industry doesn’t come close to the financials.
Secondly, most doctors did not get a cannabis education when they were earning their degrees. There are now excellent resources available, but it requires an investment of time. And, often it’s easier to refer the patient to another doctor who knows about cannabis.
Finally, many patients will have a lot of questions about this treatment because of the buzz. Since doctors already have limited time for each patient, it can be easier for them to prescribe a similar drug that has the research and knowledge readily available.
What does it cost?
On average, patients are spending about $120 per month on their cannabis prescriptions. More and more insurance companies are providing some form of medical cannabis coverage under employer programs, such as Sun Life, Manulife and Great-West Life. The provincial drug programs do not yet have available coverage.
Can’t I just buy it at one of these new dispensaries?
In short, yes you could. However, here are a few things to keep in mind before going this route:
- Staff at dispensaries are not qualified or allowed to give any kind of health advice.
- Purchases made without a prescription cannot be claimed on eligible insurance plans. Also, they cannot be written off against taxes as a medical expense.
- Rights and privileges that come with a valid prescription, such as travelling within Canada with your medication, or consuming in public places are not available if you buy at a dispensary.
- Retail dispensaries are often more costly than purchasing medical cannabis from a licensed producer.
- Because the staff is not medically trained, finding the correct product or strain for your specific health condition is challenging. Furthermore, the guessing game prolongs the time it takes to get relief. Along the same lines, it can be frustrating and expensive to try many products.
Where do I start?
It sounds cliché, but “talk to your doctor” is the best thing to do. If your doctor is not an expert, then there are dedicated services, like Wayfare Nursing that are available to help you and your doctor develop a plan, stay on the same page and ensure a professional medical approach is taken.
If you have any questions or would like any information on how medical cannabis applies to you, please ask your doctor or call Wayfare Nursing at 1-833-537-6665 and we would be happy to help!