Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Greg Mercer
Page: A1


The Record speaks to a wide range of people who shun normal

KITCHENER - William Campbell and his wife were on their way to a
friend's 25th wedding anniversary one night in 2008 when a drunk
driver pulled out in front of them. They didn't have time to stop.

Campbell, 53, was hospitalized after the head-on collision, and
everything in his life would change. Earlier that day, he'd aced an
exam to become a lab technician, after getting laid off from a
furniture factory where he'd worked for 22 years.

"My neck and back have been screwed up ever since," he

Campbell was one of 700 members of the Organix Compassion club, one of
five marijuana dispensaries closed in a crackdown by Waterloo Regional
Police last month. He says Canada's laws around access to medicinal
marijuana need to change.

"Now I have to scramble to get my medicine. I have to go to the black
market. I have to talk to people I don't want to have to talk to," he
said. "It's putting me back in a criminal spot."

There is, of course, a legal mail-order system for people with
licensed medical marijuana prescriptions. But advocates complain it's
too expensive, inconvenient and they say those legal suppliers are
often out of stock.

There are hundreds of people like Campbell in Waterloo Region, people
who use cannabis to treat symptoms from cancer and arthritis to Lyme
disease and chronic pain. But many of them are hesitant to speak
publicly about their use of a drug that's still on the fringes of
mainstream medicine.

The Record spoke to a wide range of licensed users for this story,
from white-collar professionals to students in their 20s. Some didn't
want to speak publicly because they didn't want their employers to
know. Others were keeping their use hidden from their children.

Others, such as Campbell, are speaking out. In 2013, he was diagnosed
with vocal chord cancer. He decided to treat his illness the same way
he did after his crash - with cannabis oil, which he mixes into a
drink that he takes every day.

He believes the oil helped reduce the negative side effects of the
radiation he underwent to attack his cancer. The only downside, he
says, is that it makes him tired.

"It's just trying to heal myself. People are conditioned to think it's
a drug, but it's a medicine," he said.

Compared to the prescription painkillers that he was given after his
crash, he says cannabis oil has given him his life back.

"It's not debilitating. You're still able to function. You can still
enjoy life," he said.

"It's nowhere near as bad as the opiates. You feel like a zombie on
the opiates, walking around feeling no pain, but you're emotions
aren't there. With opiates, you feel nothing."

A flawed system

John and Barbara Seaton, both retired teachers, look and sound like
typical grandparents in their 70s. They shuffle slowly into the coffee
shop, order tea and look for a table near the washrooms.

But the Seatons are unique in one aspect - they believe more seniors
with chronic pain and mobility problems should consider medicinal
marijuana instead of conventional medicine.

John Seaton, 78, uses cannabis oil to treat pain from his
osteoarthritis and a curved spine. He recently told his family about
his prescription, and says they were initially stunned.

"At first, they were sort of shocked," he said. "But once it's out,
it's not so much of a problem."

Seaton, who gets around with the help of a cane, looks every bit the
grandfather until he pulls a vial of cannabidiol (CBD) oil out of his

Even though CBD, one of the many chemical compounds found in cannabis,
has no psychoactive

properties - in other words, it can't get you high - it's still a
controlled substance in Canada. Seaton has a prescription to use the
oil, which he puts in his tea or drops directly into his mouth.

He's the last thing you'd expect a medical marijuana user to look
like, and he's among a growing number of Canadians who are turning to
the cannabis plant to treat their ailments.

Almost 130,000 Canadians were signed up with the country's 38 licensed
cannabis producers at the end of last year - a 32 per cent jump from
the more than 98,000 registered at the end of September 2016,
according to Health Canada.

Seaton says the oil allows him to avoid a non-stop diet of Tylenol and
conventional painkillers which he previously needed to get through his
day. Without the oil, he says, walking is a painful process - but
thanks to cannabis, his mobility has improved and his stomach gets a

"I don't have to take any painkillers anymore. I don't take anything
else," he said.

His wife, Barbara, has seen the change in him first-hand, and thinks
many seniors could benefit from medicinal marijuana but are too afraid
to try it.

"They think it's a drug, a street drug," she said. "More and more
seniors have a lot of health problems, but they're still scared. Then
people try it, and can get off all those pills, and realize it's a lot
easier on their whole body."

The Seatons are upset that compassion clubs, which cater to people
with medical marijuana prescriptions instead of recreational users,
have been caught up in the recent crackdown on dispensaries. Those
clubs have helped thousands of patients navigate the many forms and
strains of medical marijuana, and provided an important service.

"Why are they stepping on the toes of the people who so desperately
need this medicine," she said. "I see it as almost criminal to deny
people their medicine."

Many medical users say they want the convenience of buying their
cannabis through storefronts, and hope that walk-in stores are allowed
under pending federal legalization of recreational marijuana next summer.

With the laws about to change, medicinal marijuana users are speaking
up. Seaton just wants to remove the obstacles to buying medicinal
marijuana for other seniors like him.

"My hope is that in the near future I can just walk in the front door,
instead of have to hammer on the window with my cane," he said.

The legal route

The majority of physicians in Ontario are still hesitant to prescribe
medicinal marijuana. Dr. Asif Khan, who runs a family medicine
practice in Waterloo, isn't one of them.

Working with the Canadian Cannabis Clinic in Kitchener, he began
prescribing cannabis to his patients about a year ago. He's written
several hundred prescriptions for it since - for everything from
arthritic pain, multiple sclerosis and chemo-induced nausea to chronic
migraines, fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel disease.

He believes many doctors are still unlikely to prescribe marijuana
because it's not part of their training in conventional medicine.

"It's probably due to a lack of education and experience, and I was
just as guilty as most physicians," Khan said. "In medical school, we
weren't taught about the medicinal properties of cannabis. We just
didn't have the education during our training."

The doctor says he began treating people with marijuana because he was
frustrated seeing patients with chronic pain and mental health issues
such as anxiety or depression who weren't getting any relief from
conventional medicines.

"It's very frustrating not to help these people," he said. "So I'm
finding this work is very rewarding. Patients are coming in now and
they're finally getting relief for these conditions, over and above
what I've been prescribing for two decades."

Still, cannabis should be a last resort, not the first option, Khan
believes. And the clinic carefully screens patients to filter out
those who are using illicit drugs, or have a family history of
schizophrenia or heart or lung problems. Anyone who is pregnant or
hoping to start a family is also declined.

"We're not really reinventing the wheel. These are people who have
been treated and assessed over many years, and we've basically reached
a point where that treatment isn't working for them anymore," he said.
"Simple, over-the-counter medicines aren't cutting it for them."

In Ontario, the only legal way to get a "medical document" for
marijuana - technically, it can't be called a prescription - is
through a physician. In some cases, that's done through a video
consultation instead of an in-person assessment with a doctor.

Naturopaths who "prescribe" cannabis aren't allowed to do so, and
their prescriptions aren't accepted by Canada's licensed medical
marijuana producers.

At the Canadian Cannabis Clinic, staff warn patients about dosage and
side-effects, such as insomnia and fatigue.

A clinic counsellor will help patients sort out which strain and
method of consumption is best for them, and set them up with a
licensed, legal producer.

Khan also urges his patients to use a vaporizer, and not smoke

A consultation through Canadian Cannabis Clinics or another local
clinic, such as Bodystream, is covered by OHIP. Physicians bill the
Ministry of Health, and the clinic charges the doctors a percentage of
that bill for the cost of their overhead.

Patients pay for the cannabis out of pocket, since drug plans don't
cover marijuana or its derivatives - which means someone using two
grams a day is often paying as much as $600 a month.

People don't need a referral from their family doctor, Khan said, but
the clinics prefer it to co-ordinate medical records. And they want to
see proof a patient has tried conventional medicine before turning to

Medical marijuana isn't a cure-all, Khan warns. But it has legitimate
therapeutic benefits that doctors can't afford to ignore, he said.

"This can't replace conventional medicine. But as a good strategy for
those difficult patients, I think physicians should educate
themselves. It will open up their treatment options immensely," he

'A lot we don't know'

Although humans have been using marijuana for medicinal purposes for
more than 4,000 years, reliable research into its effects on the brain
only began a few decades ago.

"There's a lot we don't know," said Linda Parker, a Canada Research
chair in behavioural neuroscience at the University of Guelph.

In her new book, "Cannabinoids and the Brain," Parker examines the
impact of cannabinoids on everything from epilepsy and schizophrenia
to Alzheimer's disease and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

It's still very early in the science, though there are encouraging
signs there is potential benefit for a range of medical conditions.
One of the most promising uses of cannabis is to reduce reliance on
opiates such as Dilaudid, fentanyl and OxyContin, legal painkillers
often associated with addiction and other negative side effects.

Breakthrough studies in the 1960s discovered the main psychoactive
ingredient in cannabis, THC, and found that CBD, another key compound
in cannabis, could help control epileptic seizures.

But a lot of research since has been hampered by ongoing marijuana
prohibition and excessive regulation that complicates scientists'
work, she said. Even though CBD has no psychoactive properties,
researchers still have to pass through significant government red tape
to access it for their experiments.

"We could have been 40 years ahead if we had just followed up," said
Parker, who began her research into cannabinoids when she was teaching
psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. "This should have been going
on a long time ago. The regulations are still so far behind."

Despite the promise of medical cannabis, she warns against advocates
who promote cannabis as some kind of miracle drug. It's not entirely
harmless, Parker said. Some studies have shown that in teenagers who
are chronic users of marijuana, it can trigger psychosis in their
developing brains.

"There are certain indications it can help, but there are certain
indications that it can hurt, too," Parker said. "The dose is key."

She also warns that a lot of the black market marijuana grown today is
bred for higher THC content - but that's at the sacrifice of CBD, the
therapeutic compound in marijuana that can help control anxiety and
other negative impacts of THC.

She believes doctors are still hesitant to prescribe medical cannabis
because there's not enough known yet about how different dosages and
strains will affect patients, she said.

"There's concerns about the relative safety and benefit of a plant
material that you can't control the quality of. Nobody knows what
concentration of THC to CBD is best to prescribe," Parker said. "The
research is still not clear in terms of humans."

Funding for clinical trials of medical cannabis with humans is limited
because it's been a prohibited substance in most countries until
recently, and most pharmaceutical companies won't finance research for
a product they can't sell.

While the science is still relatively new, there is evidence that
cannabis and some of its compounds can have significant health
benefits, from controlling seizures and nausea to treating pain and
severe anxiety, she said.

But while marijuana advocates celebrate pending legalization,
scientists know there's still a lot of work left to do, Parker said.

"We need more research, more human clinical trials," she said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt