Pubdate: Tue, 06 Mar 2018
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Margaret Shkimba
Page: A8


Medical cannabis take-up hampered by lack of research and red

I picked up a View magazine while I was waiting for the bus a few
weeks back. There was an article on the 15 or so uses of cannabis, so
after I caught up with CATCH (Citizens at City Hall), I turned to the
article on cannabis looking for some useful information.

By this time, I was on the bus, seated on a side seat, next to an
elderly woman. I could feel she was reading over my shoulder, so I
turned to her slightly. She asked me the name of the paper and we
started a conversation about cannabis.

Well. The guy sitting next to her perked up and looked our way. He
piped up with answers to her questions and I asked him if he was a
health science student, he seemed so knowledgeable. No, he grinned,
engineering. At one point he opened his jacket and offered her a sniff
of his stash. It was a beautiful moment, there on the bus. She was
genuinely interested, he was happy to share, even offered her a pinch
to take home. She giggled and declined. As I got off the bus, I gave
her my copy and marvelled at the shift in attitudes, at her hungry
interest, his open sharing. The times, they are a-changin'.

A few days later I was in a classroom at a cannabis education session.
I have chronic back pain, a close and constant companion for the last
20 years. I'd given up on relief, not wanting to take drugs - afraid
of developing an increasing tolerance to an unsustainable therapy.

At the cannabis education session, there were slightly more women than
men, and all of a certain age: old. We shuffled into the room, some of
us had canes, and we settled in to find out if cannabis is all it's
cracked up to be. The presenter was a pharmacist. He handed out a copy
of his presentation, a quarter-inch thick sheaf of paper,
double-sided, stapled in the corner.

He started with a history of cannabis, origins and use, focusing on
the politics of prohibition and the stigma attached to users. It was a
good overview and helped to clear away misconceptions spread by moral
crusaders. He covered the science, how cannabis interacts with the
body, and the types of pain that cannabis could treat - "could" treat
because there is so little definitive evidence that really, he said,
we look to people who use it to tell us what they use it for. Research
is expensive and mired with red tape and security issues. And, because
there's just not enough evidence to say for certain if cannabis is
effective, insurance companies won't cover it, except for the
treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis.

That's important. If cannabis is offered as a valid treatment for pain
sufferers, it has to be covered by insurance, but there's no problem
getting coverage for opioids, which carry their own special hell.
Where is the incentive to move off covered meds to uncovered ones,
especially for people on limited incomes? Where is the incentive to
dump their current dealer for a licensed producer if the cost is the
same, or maybe cheaper off the street? The emphasis was on strains and
the risk of contamination, but the unspoken message was: if you've got
a good supply line that you trust, and it works, keep it. This is a
major medical cannabis fail.

The presentation addressed the adverse effects of cannabis on body and
mental health. That made sense; information should include adverse
effects, just like the pharma meds do. The take-away, for me anyway,
was if you're looking to cannabis for relief, it's in the sleep aid

It seems the biggest barrier to use, particularly among women, is
stigma: "I could never do that." "What will my family say if I start
smoking pot?" Indeed, a short convo with the presenter confirmed that
anecdotally, women were more concerned with stigma, while men were
happy to share stories of use, either their own or that of friends.

People who use medical cannabis believe it helps with their symptom
control. It makes their life livable, by their own measure. It's time
for the science to catch up with the reality, increase research
funding and access, and reduce stigma.
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MAP posted-by: Matt