The current laws and policies of the medicinal framework are not perfect. There is a gap in the healthcare of cannabis patients, forcing them to seek out support, products, and services elsewhere.
Nowhere else in medicine are patients already expected to understand their treatment and medication. Typically there is a doctor, specialist, or pharmacist to help guide you on your way. These people offer treatment support, direct you on how to use your medication, and inform you of the symptoms and side effects you may experience. With cannabis, however, there is none of that. The patient is given authorization from their doctor to contact a licensed producer, and from there the patient will have to do their own research or implement a series of trial and errors to find what works for them. Considering that cannabis can affect people differently, it would seem natural for patients to have some kind of consult until they have found what works. But this is not the case.
Lawmakers are out of touch with cannabis and the cannabis community. They likely have little to no personal experience with medicinal cannabis and therefore cannot begin to manage the patient experience. This lack of knowledge and understanding results in a subconscious stigmatization of the plant and those who use it. People tend to fear the unknown, and this lack of knowledge develops into a mindset of prejudice. There is also residual shame from the prohibitionist era, where people who use cannabis are labeled as stoners and receive negative judgment from those in positions of power. But with cannabis being used to treat cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s and more, this stoner stereotype is far from accurate and should be dismantled through education and awareness. If government officials were better informed, they would not create policies that leave patients in the dark.
What Do The Patients Think?
We reached out to an ACMPR patient support group to hear about the experiences of cannabis patients when they acquire their cannabis prescription. Most of the responses were negative, claiming that after the doctor hurried them out the door with the prescription. One woman commented saying that the medical system isn’t up to speed, so doing your own homework is better. Another individual claimed that one should read in depth on cannabis independently and that as a rule, doctors don’t know anything on how to prescribe cannabis.
Such little treatment guidance is unprecedented in the world of medicine. Healthcare is not limited to simply prescribing medication, an element of care is necessary but is also lacking in the current medicinal cannabis policy.
How Can This Be Solved?
If lawmakers sought out actual cannabis education from experts in the field, i.e. -people who have real experience not just theoretical knowledge, they would be better equipped to make more informed policies. This can be done by humbling yourself, interacting with the community, and learning from the pros who have been immersed in cannabis for decades. When government officials begin to do this, they will be able to shed their subconscious stigma, appreciate the nuances of the plant, and see the warmth behind the community. The focus would then shift towards the patient experience and not just regulation of growing and product potencies.
Progress Will Find A Way
Thankfully, there are groups of Canadians who aren’t waiting for the government to get things right and are providing the missing services on their own.
Many dispensaries on the west coast are educating their budtenders more and more so they can provide customers with guidance when choosing cannabis for their conditions. Not only that, but they also offer products that the government arbitrarily deemed too strong and LP’s cannot produce. Products like phoenix tears and high potency tinctures are in fact beneficial for patients with severe conditions but are unavailable through the legal medicinal framework.
There are also cannabis-focused clinics popping up in the east that have doctors and counselors on site to prescribe cannabis as well as guide you through the treatment process. We spoke to one woman from the ACMPR support group who had a very positive experience with one of these clinics.
A Better Patient Experience is Possible
Brittney went to Canada Cannabis Clinics for her cannabis prescription, which has 17 locations in Ontario, 2 in Alberta and 1 in B.C. There, she was able to receive a prescription from a doctor for her condition as well as counseling and ongoing treatment support. She currently suffers from a list of debilitating conditions and injuries which includes an abnormal herniated L5-S1 disk, rotated internally, as well as degenerative disk disease, arthritis of the spine, and growths on the spine. We asked Brittney more about her experience, as these clinics haven’t made their way to the west coast yet, we were pleasantly surprised to see an establishment providing this kind of quality of care.
“ The doctor that I met with knew that I was nervous, that I was reaching for a last resort to keep some semblance of normalcy in my life. I have a five-year-old son who I am unable to do many things with, and a job I often have to take time off from. She put all my concerns at ease and told me there was a way to treat it and still be able to function (and eventually function at a higher capacity). The doctor took the time to explain what the product was, what it would do, what medications it would replace. She told me I needed to start very slowly, as I have no tolerance for cannabis. After meeting with the doctor, I met with a counselor. She went over everything the doctor had discussed plus the options for LP’s and what their products were. Being as I had very little knowledge, I asked that she give me her recommendation for which product to sign up for. She wrote all the dosing instructions on my copy of the prescription. She gave me contact information should I need to ask follow up questions or if I had concerns”.
This kind of health care should be the standard for all clinics. Canada Cannabis Clinics are not yet available for all Canadians, so only those with nearby locations can take advantage of this service. It is essential for the federal government to consider the broad needs of the patient and not just focus their policies on regulating the plant itself. Seeing such dramatic results in people like Brittney shows how crucial it is for medicinal cannabis to be integrated into the healthcare system.
We asked Brittney how her treatment was going and she had nothing but wonderful things to say, “It is absolutely working. It’s still very early on for me, but I can see what it is doing even at this stage. They have me increasing [my dosage] at a painfully slow rate, which is frustrating but understandable. It has replaced all of my daily medications, and I am only taking things on as needed during extreme times”.
If more lawmakers heard from patients like Brittney or sat down with the expert growers of BC, they would likely approach cannabis regulation with a more informed and less stigmatized mindset. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are not left to navigate their chemo treatment alone. They have support, guidance, and medical supervision. The same should apply to cannabis. Through experience, education, and awareness of the issue, lawmakers can begin to shake their bias and create medicinal regulations that reflect priorities that are patient focused. And the patient comes first, always.