April 20 has been a day of advocacy for cannabis use long before its legalization in Canada. This year, health advocates are asking for more people to pursue proper health channels when accessing medical marijuana products.
Founder and CEO of the SheCann medical cannabis community, Ashleigh Brown, says the biggest push among Canadians is “connecting people with resources, support, information and evidence-based practices.”
Health Canada statistics from 2019 show that 14 per cent or more than 160,000 people in Saskatchewan were using cannabis medically, while only 8,000 of them had gone through proper healthcare channels.
Brown says this may be because of the stigma that most traditional healthcare won’t offer cannabis options or have up-to-date cannabis information.
“It isn’t more challenging,” Brown explained. “It’s actually easier than ever to become a medical patient and it’s also more important as we understand the science behind how cannabis works and some of the potential challenges people face with dosing or using other medications or treating difficult conditions with a lot of symptoms.”
Pharmacist Neil D’Souza says there are always risks with avoiding medical guidance.
“Having a budtender making medical recommendations… they don’t have that clinical training usually and they’re actually not legally authorized to provide guidance on medical cannabis use,” D’Souza said. “Sometimes there are interactions with certain medications, and also certain conditions where medical cannabis is not recommended.”
Advocates simply ask that people who are interested in pursuing cannabis health options start a conversation with their family doctor first.
More doctors and pharmacies are now offering cannabis options, such as Shoppers Drug Mart with its online learning portal that even offers resources to practitioners looking to educate themselves further.
“There’s this kind of cannabis care pharmacist in the background to help your patients, but there’s also a possibility for you to be onboarded into a platform where there is information available in terms of how you go about integrating your patients onto some of these products,” explained Toronto General Hospital Director of Pain Services and Shoppers’ cannabis care advisory board member Dr. Hance Clarke.
“I don’t foresee at any point in time that a cannabis education module will be made mandatory. I will say though that we’re certainly seeing more interest. The more patients that gravitate to this, even physicians that were somewhat reticent and in that middle ground of ‘maybe I need to know more,’ there now are those avenues for them to know more and for them to slowly integrate.”
Clarke says when it comes to pain management, insomnia, cancer treatment and many other physical ailments, there are now more products on the market all the time to keep up with.
“You know with the legal framework here we have many different dosage formulations that these industry players are producing. There are topical creams, there are oral formulations, there are sublingual formulations and so there are different ways to actually consume these products,” Clarke said.
“More importantly the dose levels that you are consuming are significantly lower than the doses associated with classic images of people smoking joints and things of that nature.”