Pubdate: Fri, 24 Feb 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Sheryl Ubelacker
Page: A10


TORONTO - The number of Canadians registered to purchase medical
marijuana from licensed producers has exploded since the federal
commercial-access program was introduced almost four years ago,
reaching nearly 130,000 by the end of last year, the most recent Heath
Canada figures show.

As of Dec. 31, 129,876 Canadians had signed up with the country's
cannabis producers, a 32 per cent jump from the 98,460 registered at
the end of September and a whopping 1,544 per cent increase from the
7,900 granted access to medicinal cannabis in mid 2014.

But the surge in demand has many wondering if all these patients have
a legitimate medical need for the drug. Or are some people using the
system to acquire recreational pot before it is legalized, as the
Liberal government has promised to do this spring? Dr. John Goodhew, a
family practitioner in downtown Toronto who supports the use of
therapeutic cannabis for specific conditions, said he's seen a
definite uptick in patients seeking prescriptions.

Because Goodhew has become known as one of a minority of doctors who
will prescribe medical marijuana, he has patients from all over
Ontario contacting him.

"So patients will frequently call me and I'm not able to help them
because I only consider marijuana as a therapeutic agent for people in
my practice, people that I know, people whose medical histories I'm
familiar with," he said Thursday.

"And this is really the only responsible way to do it. Unfortunately,
it leaves other people kind of in the lurch."

Goodhew said he prescribes cannabis for such ailments as pain, weight
loss from conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, nausea and
hepatitis C.

But increasingly, patients are asking for it because of
osteoarthritis, a painful condition that's on the rise as the
population ages.

"Things like anxiety and depression where there really isn't good data
that it works... I won't prescribe it," he said.

"I think there are probably a minority that are strictly medical and
there's a minority that are strictly recreational and with most people
it's probably a combination," Goodhew said.

"Because part of pain relief is if it relieves pain and it also makes
you feel good, it's kind of a mixed blessing that way."

Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of medical professionalism for the
Canadian Medical Association, said the spike in the number of people
registered to purchase medical cannabis could be a reflection of
doctors becoming more comfortable with prescribing the drug, coupled
with growing patient demand.

And he agreed that while some people seek a prescription for authentic
health reasons, others likely simply want it for its euphoric effects.

"When I talk to doctors about this, there's no question people will
say, 'Some of my patients I feel really would not be here asking for
it if they did not have these medical conditions,' " he said from Ottawa.

"But I also hear from colleagues that they do suspect some of the
patients are there asking for the approval to use it recreationally,"
said Blackmer, adding there's no standard test "to tease that out."

In the meantime, Blackmer said doctors are waiting to see if and when
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government will legalize and regulate
the sale of recreational pot.

Goodhew is anxious for that day.

"I'm supportive of the role that marijuana has in medicine. But I'm
really tired of being the gatekeeper for it. And all my colleagues
are," he said.

"Not only are we the gatekeepers and have to fill out forms constantly
for people with legitimate use, we're now getting inundated with
people who want a prescription so they can get the good-quality stuff
at a decent price from the licensed growers... (and) we're constantly
having to turn people down.

"So the day that it becomes legal will be a day when we're all going
to breathe a sigh of relief."
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