Getting a prescription for medical cannabis products is important

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The use of medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001, yet finding a doctor in Quebec who is willing to prescribe medical cannabis products for treatment of pain, nausea or anxiety remains a challenge.

Andrea Paine, national director of government relations for cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis, spoke to cancer patients at the West Island Cancer Wellness Centre in Kirkland, Que. as part of the centre’s Evenings of Inspiration program, which is open to the community at large.

Aurora is the second largest cannabis company in the world, with facilities in 25 countries, including 15 in Canada. One of its facilities is on Hymus Blvd. in Pointe-Claire.

Last Thursday’s talk was entitled Cannabis 101, but went beyond the explanation of the drug’s basics to delve into the complications encountered when trying to obtain medical cannabis products through the proper channels. Walking into one of the province’s SDQC (Société québécoise du cannabis) distribution outlets to buy a product for medical purposes without the guidance of a medical professional is not advised.

“It is important to have a prescription from a doctor,” Paine told the gathering. “It’s important to speak with your doctor about drug interference and dosage.”

The advice is sound. The reality is more problematic. One cancer patient told Paine she couldn’t find a doctor who was willing to give  her a prescription, because the doctors she’d seen don’t believe it works. Paine suggested the woman visit a Santé Cannabis clinic for advice, at which point another patient piped up saying she had been on a waiting list for an appointment at the Santé Cannabis clinic in Pointe-Claire since May and had been suffering pain since November.

Paine said she would take their contact information and look into other options for both women.

To date, patients have had to rely on anecdotal evidence that cannabis helps relieve pain, nausea and anxiety. That’s because actual scientific evidence is pending. And scientific evidence is pending because Canadian clinical studies could not be launched until cannabis was removed from Canada’s illegal drug list.

Paine said 800 clinical trials determining the effectiveness of CBD and THC for pain management and the treatment anxiety disorders are now underway worldwide, including McGill University’s four-year, double-blind study on pain management. Aurora is involved in 40 trials. (The CBD element in cannabis does not get you high. The THC element gives you a buzz.)

If a patient is lucky enough to find a doctor who will prescribe cannabis, the product must be obtained online. The patient accesses the website of a licensed cannabis supplier and uploads the prescription. The doctor’s credentials are verified and the prescription studied. Is the patient registered with other online suppliers? How much is being ordered from each supplier?

Paine explained that one of the reasons Quebec doctors have been reticent to write prescriptions was because the process involved filling in a time-consuming questionnaire each time a patient made the request. The questionnaire is no longer required, but doctors are still slow to give prescriptions.

There are different ways for patients to use the drug. They can vape the dry cannabis flower, smoke it or imbibe CBD oil or gel capsules. The effects of oil and capsules are slower to take hold. Edible cannabis products will be available, legally, as of December in the rest of Canada, but not in Quebec.

Quebec government cannabis laws are the most restrictive in Canada and municipalities and apartment building owners in the province have put their own set of restrictions in place.

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