Break­ing the grey ceil­ing: Cana­dian se­niors be­com­ing more open to cannabis ther­a­pies

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - PETER KEN­TER

When Toronto res­i­dent Anne Wis­dom was first pre­scribed med­i­cal cannabis last year, her mother was against it. Wis­dom is 57 and her mother is 93.

“A lot of older peo­ple still equate med­i­cal cannabis with a party sub­stance,” says Wis­dom. “I was even a lit­tle re­luc­tant to con­sider med­i­cal cannabis when I didn’t yet have all the an­swers I needed.”

Wis­dom was born with cere­bral palsy and had con­trolled pain and mus­cle spasms with a va­ri­ety of med­i­ca­tions, in­clud­ing opi­oids. In­ves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of med­i­cal cannabis, she landed on the web­site of WeedMD, a li­censed Cana­dian med­i­cal cannabis pro­ducer.

“The web­site had a lot of an­swers and even ex­plained the right way to ap­ply for a med­i­cal cannabis li­cence,” she says. “I’m still tak­ing med­i­ca­tions, but I be­lieve that med­i­cal cannabis has al­lowed me to take fewer drugs to con­trol my symp­toms, and I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fewer over­all side ef­fects.”

Wis­dom adds that peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing cannabis as a po­ten­tial ther­apy should first ed­u­cate them­selves. She her­self did so much re­search to ed­u­cate her­self that she is now a pro­po­nent of med­i­cal cannabis and vol­un­teers with Cana­di­ans for Fair Ac­cess to Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana (CFAMM).

Pro­vid­ing that education has be­come a pas­sion for Dr. Jonas Van­derzwan, clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at WeedMD. He’s been a pri­mary care fam­ily physi­cian for 15 years and has been prac­tis­ing cannabis medicine for the last three years. Over that time, he has as­sessed and treated some 1,200 pa­tients with med­i­cal cannabis and, more re­cently, he’s noted a shift in the types of pa­tients seek­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“While se­niors seemed ini­tially re­luc­tant to con­sider cannabis as a treat­ment, we’ve seen a re­cent shift in the de­mo­graphic and they are now cu­ri­ous and more ac­cept­ing of med­i­cal cannabis,” he says.

WeedMD has taken a spe­cial in­ter­est in the se­niors’ de­mo­graphic, hav­ing formed part­ner­ships with 29 longterm care and re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. Ad­di­tion­ally, the com­pany has de­vel­oped a line of cannabis oils that con­tain ac­tive com­pounds such as CBD (cannabid­iol) and THC (tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol). WeedMD mixes nat­u­rally ex­tracted CBD and THC from legally-grown cannabis with medium chain triglyc­erides (MCT oil – a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal­grade nat­u­ral oil used widely in food that is flavour­less and odor­less – to pro­duce the com­pany’s AXIS and EN­TOURAGE Cannabis Oil lines.

Dr. Van­derzwan and his team of ed­u­ca­tors pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional ses­sions to both pa­tients and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers in the part­ner­ing fa­cil­i­ties to en­sure that cannabis is be­ing in­cor­po­rated safely and re­spon­si­bly into the care plan of in­ter­ested res­i­dents.

Here are the top ques­tions he’s asked at in­for­ma­tion ses­sions, along with his an­swers:

Q: What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween med­i­cal and recre­ational cannabis?

They’re both de­rived from the same plant, but the dif­fer­ence is in the goals of the user. The med­i­cal pa­tient uses the ther­a­peu­tic com­pounds in the prod­uct in search of med­i­cal re­lief, while the recre­ational user gen­er­ally uses it to be­come in­tox­i­cated or “high.” Gen­er­ally speak­ing, that “high” is not the de­sired out­come for a med­i­cal cannabis user, and can of­ten be quite dis­tress­ing.

Q: Is med­i­cal cannabis safe and will it make me stoned or high?

Like any med­i­ca­tion, med­i­cal cannabis can have side ef­fects. If taken in ex­cess, prod­ucts con­tain­ing THC— the psy­choac­tive com­po­nent of cannabis—could make you high, whereas the ac­tive com­pound known as CBD does not. How­ever, med­i­cal cannabis en­com­passes a wide range of prod­ucts that can be a hy­brid of CBD/ THC or it could be a strain that is dom­i­nant in ei­ther com­pound, de­pend­ing on the pa­tient’s needs.

Q: Will tak­ing med­i­cal cannabis make se­nior pa­tients more likely to be­come dizzy or fall?

As with many con­ven­tional med­i­ca­tions that se­niors take, dizzi­ness could be a po­ten­tial side ef­fect; how­ever, we would mon­i­tor and ad­just dosage where needed. Even so, in­ter­est­ing to note that a study re­cently pub­lished in the Eu­ro­pean Jour­nal of In­ter­nal Medicine re­ports that af­ter six months of med­i­cal cannabis treat­ment, the num­ber of re­ported falls in el­derly pa­tients was ac­tu­ally sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced.

Q: I don’t want to smoke cannabis. How else can it be con­sumed?

As a doc­tor, I’m pleased to see there are al­ter­na­tive forms to con­sume cannabis. Pa­tients can use a vapour­izer, or con­sume cannabis in ed­i­ble oil form. Ac­cord­ing to Health Canada, cannabis oil sales are out­pac­ing dried flower sales. Ad­di­tion­ally, we are see­ing in­creased re­search and development on al­ter­na­tive de­liv­ery sys­tems in­clud­ing creams, nasal sprays and trans­der­mal patches.

Q: Why do some Cana­dian doc­tors decline to pro­vide med­i­cal cannabis in­for­ma­tion to pa­tients?

For many, I would sus­pect it’s based on a lack of fa­mil­iar­ity, as there is lit­tle train­ing on its use in med­i­cal school. Also, doc­tors are trained to prac­tise medicine in an ev­i­dence-based way. Al­though it con­tin­ues to grow, the ev­i­dence base for med­i­cal cannabis is only now get­ting sup­port with R&D ini­tia­tives and part­ner­ships. Thank­fully, clin­i­cal re­search into the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of cannabis is grow­ing at a rapid rate, lead­ing to more ac­cep­tance in the med­i­cal com­mu­nity.

Q: If cannabis be­comes recre­ation­ally le­gal, why should I seek out a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional?

Many older Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially those who have no ex­pe­ri­ence with it, are only will­ing to use med­i­cal cannabis un­der the guid­ance of a physi­cian. Con­tin­ued physi­cian in­volve­ment will help drive fur­ther re­search in the field, as well, and help en­sure that the in­dus­try will con­tinue to pro­duce cannabis strains with the med­i­cal pa­tient in mind.

Q: How can we im­prove ac­cess to med­i­cal cannabis for pa­tients?

We would like to see in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and govern­ments ad­dress the costs of med­i­cal cannabis, which typ­i­cally aren’t cov­ered by pro­vin­cial or pri­vate in­sur­ance plans. We can also do a bet­ter job of ed­u­cat­ing doc­tors and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers on the op­tions of us­ing med­i­cal cannabis as an al­ter­na­tive ther­apy.

Q: How can I be­come el­i­gi­ble to be a med­i­cal cannabis pa­tient?

Your pri­mary care prac­ti­tioner needs to do the as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine whether you’re a suit­able can­di­date. If they’re un­com­fort­able mak­ing that de­ter­mi­na­tion, you can con­tact WeedMD’s Client Ser­vices Team at 1-844-WEEDMD -6 and they will con­nect you with a prac­ti­tioner or ask your prac­ti­tioner for a re­fer­ral to a cannabis clinic. Re­gard­less of who per­forms the as­sess­ment, you should al­ways bring along sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion re­gard­ing your di­ag­no­sis and a record of con­ven­tional ther­a­pies you’ve al­ready tried.

To learn more about medic­i­nal cannabis oils and se­niors, plus WeedMD’s di­verse prod­uct lines in­clud­ing AXIS, EN­TOURAGE and a va­ri­ety of dried flower strains, go to


“Con­tin­ued physi­cian in­volve­ment will help drive fur­ther re­search in the field” of med­i­cal cannabis, says Dr. Jonas Van­derzwan, WeedMD Med­i­cal Di­rec­tor, and Chair of WeedMD’s Med­i­cal Ad­vi­sory Board.

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