Medical Cannabis and your Local Dispensary: What’s happening in Canada?
Medical cannabis and recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada, yet it seems it’s harder to find than ever before! More and more people are excited to try medical cannabis as research has exploded in the last few years showing its potential to help with many difficult-to-treat disorders such as anxiety, mood, insomnia, chronic pain, certain cancers and disorders of the nervous system and brain. But, it’s difficult to get advice and guidance let alone a medical document to access cannabis as medicine.
‘How were patients able to access medical cannabis prior to legalization?’
Prior to legalization of medical cannabis by the Canadian federal government you could get cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation through an online cannabis licensed producer or be licensed to grow your own or elect another person to grow for you. Over the years this evolved into a culture of medical cannabis being available through marijuana dispensaries that provided patients with access to a plethora of different products. The staff at these dispensaries had varying levels of knowledge and expertise in cannabis therapy but often didn’t have medical training so couldn’t give expert advice on drug-drug interactions or provide caution about cannabis with certain disease states. Still, patients learned through trial and error and often found the product they needed to improve or resolve their symptoms. As well, cannabis is an incredibly safe medication as there is no risk of overdose so advising on cannabis didn’t involve a great deal of risk for the patient or the dispensary. These marijuana dispensaries, operating in the so-called ‘grey-market,’ were given business licenses but not considered strictly legal from the government’s point-of-view. Still, the demand for medical cannabis and grew and evolved into a grass-root’s movement as society became more educated and laws began to soften.
‘Why are marijuana dispensaries being shut down now that cannabis is legal?’
Lack of regulation and oversight from Health Canada created some benefits and risks for the consumer. Without regulation from Health Canada products did not go through mandatory testing and the amounts of THC, CBD or other active ingredients listed in medical cannabis were at most a guess as batches changed depending on the growing season. Further, there were no standards with regards to the chemicals used for extraction and pesticide practices. This made it hard for the medical consumer who had to trust the dispensary had received honest information from their many suppliers. This may have been fine for the occasional recreational user who took marijuana on a Friday night like someone has a glass of wine. But for the medical cannabis patient this is unacceptable as every person needs a unique dose and combination of THC and CBD that requires experimentation. Without standardization and accurate labelling the patient was unable to ever find exactly what was right for them. Even more so for patients wanting a high CBD, low THC product who found that sometimes there was more THC than was reported in the ingredients making risk of sedation or getting high problematic.
Without standardization and testing of cannabis products it was difficult for physicians and pharmacists to recommend their patients to seek out these treatments even if they thought they would get therapeutic benefit from them. On the other hand, the lack of regulation and oversight allowed dispensaries to create a variety of ways for patients to get the therapy in a way that best suited them, whether it be a topical salve, vaginal or rectal suppository, concentrated extract or edible. This lack of choice and accessibility is justifiably upsetting to the medical cannabis patient who is watching as their dispensaries are being shut down across Canada one store at a time.
‘How should patients access medical cannabis in this evolving and rapidly growing market?’
The new system that is emerging in Canada has a clearly differentiated market for the recreational and medical cannabis consumers. The recreational market will explode across Canada in the near future as retail outlets, regulated much like beer & wine stores, will sell products but not be allowed to offer medical advice. Conversely, the medical market is not easily accessible and requires patients to get a medical document from their physician and then sign up online for their products. This lack of accessibility is unfortunate as patients who obtain a medical document and are signed up to a medical producer of cannabis (e.g. MedReleaf, Spectrum Therapeutics, Canni-Med, Tilray) have access to compassionate pricing based on income and don’t pay taxes. Unfortunately, physicians and pharmacists have been unwilling to become educated and many patients find themselves given the cold shoulder or treated like they are drug seeking when they ask for advice. Thankfully, there are medical doctors, naturopathic doctors and pharmacists that are educated and highly capable of giving advice and support about dosing, drug-drug interactions, efficacy and safety.
Every person needing or wanting to try medical cannabis should be given support and guidance to find the right product and have their medical questions answered by a compassionate practitioner. If you have been unable to get help with medical cannabis join our Wellness Family and learn about forward thinking ways to find optimal health. We can support and guide you to find the cannabis therapy protocol that is right for you, including selecting the right strain, dose, THC to CBD ratio, and terpene profile. Further, ongoing advice is provided as patients may need to reduce or be tapered off pharmaceutical therapies that may no longer be needed.
*ErbaLife is designed to provide information only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always enquire with a health care professional concerning any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment options.*