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A Case for Medical Cannabis

Navigating Medical versus Recreational Cannabis

I am frequently asked, as a professional in the medical cannabis industry, why people should bother getting a prescription, with legally available recreational cannabis on the horizon. This is a valid question.

There are several reasons why someone who requires cannabis for medical purposes has clear advantages accessing it through the Access of Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR—) set up by Health Canada. These factors include issues of availability, financial benefits and professional assistance or guidance.

Common sense dictates that medical cannabis should always take priority over recreational.  In Ontario, the largest provincial market, the LCBO will initially open only 40 stand-alone locations to service a population of almost 14 million. This may translate to long commutes, limited availability and shortages. While some Licensed Producers  (LPs) will supply both markets, many will focus solely on providing prescription medicine. Certain types of cannabis, especially those prevalent in CBD—a medically important but non-psychoactive type of cannabis — will likely have limited availability in the recreational market.

Medical cannabis will always be produced with the highest level of scrutiny, regulation and inspection. While the recreational market will obviously have quality controls, the mass production required to satisfy the demand may trade off quality for quantity. Medical cannabis will continue to be produced with the most stringent testing protocols for contaminants, like unauthorized pesticides or other banned substances.

The recreational market will certainly revolve around THC—the psychoactive cannabinoid that results in the euphoric high sought after recreationally. CBD—a non-psychoactive counterpart of THC—is a valuable tool in the medical arsenal that is used effectively for a host of conditions including pain issues, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, inflammation, mental health issues and much more. CBD doesn’t produce a high, so it is ideal for those wanting relief without cognitive effect, as well as more vulnerable patients, like the young or elderly. The recreational market will likely undersupply CBD in favour of THC.

When cannabis counsellors devise a treatment plan, we take advantage of the wide range of product hybrids and blends that are created specifically to treat medical conditions. Products such as 1:1 blends of cannabis oil—combining equal amounts of THC and CBD--are made specifically for medical treatment. These blends create a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect. When used in conjunction, the combination of cannabinoids makes both THC and CBD work more effectively as a tandem than they can individually. These oils, as well as medically approved forms of cannabis like soft gel capsules, may not be allowed in the recreational market.

Obtaining a prescription has other potential benefits to patients with medical conditions. Common sense dictates that medical cannabis should perpetually be priced lower than recreational. There is already a backlash regarding HST being applied to cannabis medicine, as well as a proposed $1 per gram surtax being proposed on all cannabis, including medical. Lobbying to remove these taxes on medicine has already begun, which may eliminate or decrease them in the future. It’s almost certain that recreational cannabis will be taxed in perpetuity—one of the selling points of legalization.

There are more immediate financial benefits of the medical system. Many of the licensed producers, such as Aurora and Tweed, offer compassionate pricing for patients with limited income. This can reduce the cost of cannabis by as much as one third. Patients collecting Ontario Disability can apply for a subsidy for a medical vaporizer if their doctor deems one necessary to medicate. Also, every dollar spent on medical cannabis and seeds is a write-off on an individual’s taxes. This can add up to thousands in deductions annually. Some larger companies and organizations, such as Shopper’s Drug Mart, Loblaws and OPSEU, are already allowing employees coverage of medical cannabis under their employee benefits. After legalization, more companies will likely follow suit. This will only be obtainable with a medical prescription.

The ability to develop a consistent and reliable medication routine is a huge factor in the choice to go medical. Patients can rest assured they have a steady supply of the type of medicine they need—delivered to their door—as mandated by Health Canada. The percentages of the cannabinoids of an individual strain stay relatively consistent when obtained from an LP, allowing patients to develop a balanced treatment plan. At Canadian Cannabis Clinics, we offer the complimentary services of experienced cannabis counsellors to guide and navigate patients through the medical cannabis process. Counsellors educate patients and help develop and monitor treatment plans under our MD’s direction and supervision. Trying to self-medicate would deny oneself this expertise.

Medical cannabis patients have several freedoms that recreational users won’t enjoy. Most importantly, medical cannabis patients are authorized to use their medicine in public places. Recreational users will be confined to their homes. While the proposed legislation will potentially allow growing of up to four cannabis plants per household, medical patients are able to apply for licenses from Health Canada with a doctor’s grow prescription, to grow whatever is needed to produce their required medicine. Medical cannabis users also enjoy privacy. Recreational users will have to purchase their medicine from a public retail store, while medical patients enjoy the discretion of private ordering and delivery.

Legalization will certainly bring cannabis, and its incredible medicinal properties, to a huge new segment of the population. Many people will inadvertently discover the healing properties of the plant to treat a variety of ailments. Some will continue to self-medicate with what is recreationally available, while others will graduate to the medical system—where they will have professional guidance and better product availability. Hopefully these insights assist people in making an educated choice to address their medical needs.

Rick Gillman is a medical cannabis patient, consultant, and veteran freelance writer. He is involved in medical cannabis research and breeding projects--creating more effective medicine. He works for Canadian Cannabis Clinics as a Medical Outreach Educator out of the Collingwood, Ontario clinic.