Medical cannabis (marijuana) has been legal in Canada since 2001.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia and the Canadian Medical Protective Association say that doctors may prescribe cannabis if they feel comfortable with it.
According to MacLean’s Magazine 130,000 Canadians signed up with the country’s 38 licensed cannabis producers this year as medical patients approved by a doctor. An older survey said that only 10 per cent of Canada’s physicians prescribe medical cannabis, but that number may be growing.
The government of Canada says there are two categories of medical cannabis treatment.
Category 1 covers any symptoms treated within the context of providing compassionate end-of-life care or at least one of the symptoms associated with medical conditions listed below:
- Severe pain and/or persistent muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, from a spinal cord injury, from spinal cord disease.
- Severe pain, cachexia, anorexia, weight loss, and/or severe nausea from cancer or HIV/AIDS infection.
- Severe pain from severe forms of arthritis.
- Seizures from epilepsy.
Category 2 is for applicants who have debilitating symptom(s) of medical condition(s), other than those described in Category 1.
Dr. John Goodhew is a family physician from Toronto who believes in the medicinal properties of cannabis. Goodhew said he prescribes cannabis for such ailments as pain, weight loss from conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, nausea and Hepatitis C. Although he is favourable to cannabis treatments, Goodhew is apprehensive of prescribing medical cannabis for Category 2 ailments due to a lack of peer reviewed studies.
“Things like anxiety and depression where there really isn’t good data that it works — I won’t prescribe it,” he said in an interview with CBC.
In years past, it has been difficult to study cannabis in a scientific setting because it is an illegal controlled substance. Now with cannabis becoming legal for recreational use in 2018 funding for cannabis research may become more accessible for laboratory studies.
Scientists do know that the marijuana plant is comprised of more than 100 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, with each of these possibly having different effects on your body.
Unlike opioids and other narcotic substances such as cocaine, cannabis does not affect regions of the brain associated with breathing so it is impossible to overdose.
What is the difference between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana? Mostly production standards and quality assurance. For example Canada’s largest medical cannabis producer Tilray has received GMP certification.
As an internationally recognized standard, GMP is designed to ensure that medicines are consistently produced and controlled with the same high levels of quality and purity.
Canadian doctors currently do not prescribe specific strains of cannabis to treat symptoms. How do you know which one is right for you?
In the 18th century botanists determined that there are actually two types of psychoactive marijuana plants, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa.
The Indica plants originate within an 800-mile long mountain range on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border called Hindu Kush. These plants are short, bushy with thick leaves and a resinous coating that protects the plant from harsh climates and conditions. Indica is a sturdy plant which can be grown in colder climates. This type of cannabis provides a relaxing full-body sensation that can treat pain or insomnia. Three popular Indica strains are Blueberry, Afghani and Northern Lights.
The Sativa cousin grows naturally in mountainous regions of South America, Africa, and tropical places throughout the world. The Sativa plant grows tall, up to 25 feet high and has thin leaves and long thin branches. The effects of Sativa tend to be uplifting, creative and cerebrally-focused which can help concentration, mood and even fatigue. All-star strains of the Sativa plant are Silver Haze, Sour Diesel and Jack Herer.
Any of these strains can be combined with each other by breeders. When Sativa and Indica genetics are interbred the result is a hybrid plant. To date there are at least 779 different strains of cannabis according to leafly.com.
Because of the unregulated nature of cannabis breeding many of these strains are not what they claim to be. A recent study showed that many of the strains are misleading or completely false.
“Cannabis breeders and growers often indicate the percentage of Sativa or Indica in a cannabis strain, but they are not very accurate,” the study’s author, Jonathan Page, explained. “Right now, the genetic identity of a marijuana strain cannot be accurately determined by its name or reported ancestry. Ultimately we require a practical, accurate and more reliable classification system of this plant.”
Canadian Cannabis activist Kyle Morrison has said “all cannabis use is therapeutic use,” but for medical users who are treating specific health problems they deserve to know the exact nature and effects of the medicine they are ingesting.