April 20, 2017 6:02 pm
Updated: April 20, 2017 6:31 pm

Medical cannabis patients urged not to self-medicate when recreational marijuana is legal

WATCH ABOVE: Demand for medical cannabis is growing in Canada, but questions loom about what will happen when recreational use of marijuana becomes legal. As Heather Yourex-West explains, there's concern from some that patients will choose to bypass the health system and self-medicate.


Eight-year-old Brayden Hollawa has used medical cannabis for just over a year and his parents say it’s saved his life.

“We tried all kind of procedures, all kinds of implants, all kinds of pharmaceuticals with varying degrees of success… but not very much success,” said Brayden’s dad Darren Hollawa.

Since birth, the Calgary boy has suffered from severe seizures.

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At one point, his dad says Brayden was taking 26 pills a day. Now, under the supervision of doctors, he takes CBD, a form of medical cannabis. Brayden hasn’t had a seizure since.

“It was immediately successful, like immediately — the very first drop.”

READ MORE: Reality check – is it safe to use marijuana during pregnancy? 

When recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Canada in 2018, pediatric patients will still only be able to access the drug with a prescription, but adult patients curious about marijuana will be able to try it on their own. That’s a concern for groups like the Arthritis Society of Canada, who want to make sure cannabis as a medicine is treated very distinctly.

“People, like with any medication, want to be assured that from a consistency, safety, quality and reliability perspective, that every time they fill the prescription or authorization, they’re getting the exact same thing,” said Janet Yale, president and CEO of the arthritis society.

WATCH: There are thousands of strains of medical cannabis. Having a working knowledge of these different components can help medical users find the right one to better treat their condition.

Cannabis, however is not yet fully treated like medicine in Canada. It doesn’t have a “DIN” (a drug identification number) and so most insurance providers won’t cover it. It’s also under researched.

Dr. Jason McDougall’s lab at Dalhousie University is currently looking at how cannabis can be used to treat arthritis pain and inflammation, but he says research like this is relatively rare and there’s still so much to learn when it comes to using this drug.

“For example, it would be good to know the sufficient dosage of cannabis, the best way of administering medical cannabis and also some of the drug-to-drug interactions cannabis can have with other pain medications.”

READ MORE: Ready to swap beer for pot?  Many Canadians will be, once it’s legal
There are thousands of strains of cannabis, so having a working knowledge of the different compounds can help medical users find the right one to best treat their condition.
According to a study published in the journal Current Pharmacology, cannabis can be broken down into two main sub-types. The first is Sativa, which has more of a psychoactive effect and is often described as uplifting and energizing. The other is Indica, which is known for its sedating properties.
Tetra-hydro-cannabinol (THC) is the principle compound found in cannabis. It is used to treat acute pain and inflammation. Another medicinal component is cannabidiol (CBD).  CBD has been found to counteract the psychoactive effects of THC, while further inhibiting pain response and inflammation. Many strains have been bred to have a higher CBD to THC content, as high as 20:1.
Terpenes not only give each strain its distinctive smell but can further enhance its pain relieving and psychoactive qualities.

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