Medical marijuana is increasingly being used to treat pain patients and illnesses such as epilepsy. All of Canada and many states in the U.S. have jumped on board with the legalization of medical marijuana. Unfortunately there are still many patients who are not able to access this potentially valuable resource. The question now becomes: How can the U.S. and Canada focus on increasing access to those being denied this treatment?
These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity. They have been approved by the interviewees prior to publication.
Vancouver Island patient Brent Matsalla, who is the VP of Operations here at GLV, reports that his doctor in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada refuses to prescribe medical marijuana as a treatment for his diverticulitis. He suffers from excruciating pain and says that his doctor insists on prescribing opiates for pain relief instead of medical marijuana. Matsalla believes that if he were able to access the medical marijuana he needs for treatment, he would have fewer side-effects to deal with than the opiates his doctor currently prescribes.
In an interview with Ian Mitchell, Emergency Physician from Kamloops’s Royal Inland Hospital, he states that some doctors are hesitant to prescribe medical marijuana because it is not a standardized medication and contains many drugs within it. These doctors do not feel that there have been sufficient studies done in order to have confidence in its effectiveness.
In a previous interview with Science magazine Mitchell states that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the US has a mandate to study drug abuse so there has been less funding allocated toward studies that research the positive effects of cannabis treatment. Apparently, even when studies are commissioned in America it is hard to find the marijuana with which to conduct the research.
Insufficient scientific data on the effectiveness of medical marijuana is not the only impediment in increasing patient access. Philippe Lucas, who is VP of Patient Research and Services for Tilray (a licensed producer of medical cannabis located in Nanaimo, B.C.) describes the current system in Canada as heading in the right direction but still needing improvement.
According to Lucas, Tilray is one of the only producers that has been able to keep up with demand and provide cannabis to patients under the new regulatory system without interruption. He goes on to echo Mitchell’s thoughts that more and more doctors in British Columbia are prescribing cannabis but a significant number do not because they are not educated as to the positive effects of this newly emerging therapy. According to Lucas, the BC College of Physicians is the gate keeper that could help educate their members but they have not “been going out their way to assist doctors in this important process.” B.C. College of Physicians would not return phone calls for comments on this.
Lucas explained that Tilray is in the process of setting up a Continuing Medical Education (CME) program that will educate doctors about the pros and cons of cannabis prescription. According to him, there are some physicians who are currently hesitant to prescribe this form of treatment but more and more are realizing that cannabis could be a better option for pain relief than the addictive opiates that are currently being prescribed. He also recommends that doctors check out the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines website for access to scientific studies on the effectiveness of medical marijuana.
It appears that many doctors, medical marijuana dispensaries and governing bodies such as Health Canada are leading the way toward positive changes in the medical cannabis system. However, there also seems to be much work still needed in order to improve the safe and effective distribution of medical marijuana to those who have been denied access.
By Nicole Drawc
Personal Interview, Brent Matsalla, 17/7/14
Personal Interview, Philippe Lucas, 21/7/14
Personal Interview, Dr. Ian Mitchell, 24/7/14