Considering Cannabis? Getting Started with Medical Cannabis
Medical cannabis is continuing to gain traction in the patient community. Not everyone is the same – patients who use medical cannabis often have different goals and needs. Let’s go over its use and its access.
Is Medical Cannabis Right For You?
Cannabis therapy may be appropriate when traditional methods of treatment have not met therapeutic targets or are not tolerated.
Cannabis can be an interesting treatment option, but it’s not for everyone. Different people may have different reactions, so you need to understand what may cause a reaction and if it’s a viable option for you and your condition. Even though recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, there are benefits to being prescribed medical cannabis by a healthcare practitioner, as opposed to self-medicating. If you’re interested in exploring whether medical cannabis is right for you, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider and examine the risks and benefits.
It is also important to communicate your personal health goals. For some patients, cannabis has the potential to improve their quality of life. If this is one of your health goals, it is important to frame your discussion of cannabis alongside your desire for an improved quality of life
What Do I Need From My Healthcare Provider?
Before speaking with your healthcare practitioner, do some reading. Take along some of the currently available information on the Government of Canada Website (do NOT simply Google “medical cannabis”). Discuss the details of your condition(s), including what medications you have tried and their outcomes; if you’ve already tried cannabis and found relief, tell them. Some practitioners aren’t familiar with medical cannabis authorization and treatment. If your healthcare provider is interested in learning more, you can refer them to the Health Canada guidelines for health care practitioners. If you are having trouble finding a supportive physician, you can go to a medical cannabis clinic, where there are doctors and nurse practitioners who can help (some of which do require a referral).
In order to access medical cannabis, you need to consult with your healthcare provider. Note that only doctors and nurse practitioners can provide a medical document for cannabis. When you have a medical document, you get a treatment plan for your condition, your symptoms, your goals, and your level of comfort with cannabis. When you use cannabis recreationally, you’re guessing both the dose and which strain to use, especially since retail sales people will be unable to give medical advice.
You’ll need a medical document to be covered for medical cannabis. You will then need to register with a Health Canada Licensed Producer (LP) to begin purchasing.
As more research on the therapeutic benefits becomes available, more providers are recognizing that it has medical use. Sun Life Financial became the first major insurance provider to cover cannabis for specific conditions, and many more have followed suit.
Once You Have The Medical Document
You can choose to use the medical document to either register with an LP or register with Health Canada to produce your own supply or designate a producer. You can ‘split’ your authorized dose between two medical documents so you can register with two LPs, which helps reduce the risk of a single producer not having adequate supply.
Do your research on LPs online or contact them directly to answer questions like:
- Is there a waitlist to register? If so, how long is it?
- How long does the registration process normally take?
- What strains do you offer and can you continually supply the strain of my choice?
- Are you licensed to sell other cannabis products (i.e. oils)? If so, which ones?
- What are your prices and does that include shipping?
- Do you offer a compassionate pricing program?
- Is the cannabis standardized (is each ‘batch’ consistent)?
- Do you follow organic practices / do you have organic certification?
- What do you offer that other LPs don’t?
- Do you have a support team that can answer my questions?
Once you’ve made up your mind, register with your chosen LP, which includes completing a registration form (this can be completed online).
For your first order, don’t go crazy—buy only what your healthcare provider recommended. Keep a log to track each dose, how much it helped, amount and strain used, time of day, symptom(s) being treated, and effectiveness. Review this to see what worked best and then re-order accordingly. If nothing was successful for you, talk to your health care practitioner.
Medical cannabis isn’t for everyone; in fact, there are some clear contraindications for cannabinoid-based treatments. Medical cannabis should not be used by those who are under the age of 25; have a history of hypersensitivity to any cannabinoid; have cardio-pulmonary, respiratory, liver, renal or psychiatric disease, have a history of substance abuse or are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding. Medical cannabis should also be used with caution by people who have mood disorders or any form of addiction, or those who are taking sedatives or other psychoactive drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider, they’re there to help.