Pubdate: Fri, 24 Feb 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Sheryl Ubelacker
Page: B3


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
federal 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 such as 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.

"And other people will come in and just ask [for a prescription] and
I'll say 'What is the medical condition?' and they'll say 'Can't you
just make something up?' And I'm like, 'No, it doesn't work that way."'

Goodhew attributes such behaviour to the "Trudeau effect," a
slackening of concern as people anticipate that Ottawa will soon
decriminalize recreational marijuana. But he acknowledges it can be
difficult for physicians to determine which patients have a genuine
need for the drug and which ones want it just to get high.

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

While doctors aren't prohibited from prescribing cannabis, the CMA
opposes its use medicinally because of a lack of scientific evidence
proving the drug is effective in treating specific conditions.

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.
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