Posted November 3, 2016 by Ljubica Kostovic

What Will Happen To Medical Patients Once Cannabis Is Legalized?

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The legalization Task Force is presently concerned with developing a system to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis for recreational or, what is also referred to as personal, use. Their advice will help inform the federal government as it prepares to introduce legislation in 2017. While legalization will no doubt usher in a new era for the Canadian economy and our global partners, the question remains as to how a legalized market will affect the existing medical patient community.

Many patients are concerned with what will happen to them once cannabis is legalized. Many are concerned that they will be left behind.

On October 18th, the Arthritis Societyin partnership with CFAMM and the Canadian AIDS Society, hosted a roundtable discussion where 15 medical cannabis patients convened with members of the Task Force to discuss some of the most pertinent issues they face as patients existing in a soon to be recreational cannabis space. The issues of access, affordability, variety of cannabis products, driving, information and research needs were among the top issues discussed. As a patient in attendance of the roundtable, I feel that there was a strong inclination towards having the medical and recreational systems exist as two separate streams. There was also a very strong emphasis placed on urging the federal government to not leave medical patients behind.

In addition to taking important measures to prioritize patients, as we’ve outlined in our patient-centered post here, we would like to consider some of the positive elements a legalized recreational market could bring to the medical cannabis space.


Legalization Could Normalize the Use of Cannabis and Remove Stigma


As Bottoroff et. al note in their 2013 paper, despite the growing acceptance of cannabis use among the general public, patients continue to face stigma for their use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. No doubt, this stigma is partly as a result of negative views associated with illness, but it is also largely informed by the prohibitionist discourse of our time. For many patients, it can be difficult to convey how a plant which brings them so much therapeutic relief–at times, it is the only treatment option left for them–is also the same plant which is banned from public consumption and is framed by our criminal code.

This stigma extends further to many patients’ experiences with their healthcare providers. Due to a lack of public education and education programs within the medical community, patients are placed with the responsibility to educating their healthcare providers. The stigma of the stereotypical cannabis user is another difficult barrier to overcome. Although more and more patients and healthcare providers are becoming knowledgeable about the non-psychoactive cannabis options for their patients, there is still largely a perception of having to “get high” when using cannabis.

With legalization, there is an opportunity for Canadian society, on all levels, to normalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes and to make the distinction between medical and recreational use even clearer. With legalization, there is an opportunity to reframe the prohibitionist discourse, dispel the many myths associated with cannabis use, and further public education on a national level. With education taking centre stage in a new legalized market, there is opportunity for the public to gain valuable insight into what it means to use cannabis for therapeutic vs. recreational purposes. In a legalized space, patients using cannabis as medicine can do so alongside their fellow society members stigma-free.


Legalization Could Improve Access for Medical Patients


One of the biggest challenges patients continue to face is access. The issue of access is multi-faceted. For most, the issue of access relates to finding a physician who is willing to consider authorizing cannabis for medical purposes. For others, the issue of access relates to finding the right product varieties to meet their health goals. For others, still, the issue of access relates to affordability of their product.  Although the current ACMPR federal regulations are aimed at providing greater access to Canadian patients, there is still a long way to go before patients’ needs are truly met.

Once cannabis is legalized, patients who otherwise do not have access to a knowledgeable physician or product will at least have an opportunity to access cannabis for personal use. This access may help facilitate the conversation with their physician and allow them to get the healthcare guidance they require to meet their health goals. Once the legalized market is open, this will also hopefully drive producers of medical cannabis products to create innovative products to meet their patients’ demands. The issue of affordability remain difficult to predict, but there is hope that with greater access and a stigma-free society, affordability for medical patients will follow suit.


Legalization Could Reinforce Cannabis as a Medicine


A medical cannabis patient will always tell you one thing about their cannabis: it is medicine. Patients use cannabis to treat their chronic pain, fibromyalgia, post traumatic stress disorder, difficulties sleeping, headaches and many other conditions. Once cannabis is legalized for recreational purposes, a medical cannabis patient will continue to tell you that their cannabis is their medicine.

Legalization has the potential to open up a new space for our society to broaden its understanding of cannabis both in terms of its recreational and medicinal applications. At the heart of this broadening lies education and research. Legalization will no doubt open up the market and allow for more research to be done, which will in turn help promote public education as well as physician and patient education. Certain organization, such as the Arthritis society have been very vocal in their pursuit of research projects, as referenced in our post here. With the lessening of stigma associated with cannabis, more and more organizations will look to build upon their knowledge of this treatment option.

Education, whether it is public education, or the much needed patient education, continues to be a missing piece in the medical cannabis space. Education and research are essential for informing stigma-free perceptions of cannabis and furthering the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. And, with advances in research and public education, the healthcare community will be able to continue to expand its role in the cannabis space, which will reinforce the idea of cannabis as medicine even more.


About GrowWise Health


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GrowWise Health provides free of charge ACMPR medical cannabis education services to patients for whom medical cannabis may be an appropriate treatment option. In an effort to promote greater access for patients, the GrowWise Health team helps patients connect with healthcare providers who can assess their candidacy for medical cannabis.

GrowWise Health Patient Educators assist patients in selecting the strain(s) most appropriate for their condition and symptoms and provide guidance on dosing, safety and modes of administration. The GrowWise Health team provides medical cannabis patients with ongoing support to help improve their quality of life.

GrowWise Health Patient Educators provide services for patients in Toronto, Brampton, North York, Niagara Region/Fort Erie and across Ontario and Canada.

If you are interested in learning more about how GrowWise Patient Educators can help you meet your health goals, or to connect with a healthcare provider, please contact us here.

Follow the author of this blog on Twitter: @ljubicakostovic

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