Breaking the grey ceiling: Canadian seniors becoming more open to cannabis therapies
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 www.weedmd.com.
“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.