Mar­i­juana clin­ics con­cerned about pa­tients

The Welland Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LAN BENNER

While the provin­cial gov­ern­ment un­veiled its plan for the sale of mar­i­juana, clin­ics spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­vid­ing pa­tients with ac­cess to the drug for med­i­cal uses aren’t wor­ried about the com­pe­ti­tion.

Clinic staff, how­ever, are con­cerned about the wel­fare of pa­tients if they choose to buy mar­i­juana from one of the up to 60 provin­cial cannabis stores an­nounced Fri­day by the On­tario gov­ern­ment, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s le­gal­iza­tion of the drug on July 1, 2018.

The prov­ince’s plans in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a cannabis con­trol board to reg­u­late the sale of mar­i­juana for recre­ational use, sim­i­lar to the LCBO which reg­u­lates the sale of al­co­hol.

Al­though the pro­posed cannabis con­trol stores would make it eas­ier for peo­ple to ac­cess mar­i­juana, the clin­ics of­fer pa­tients far more than just a buzz.

“I feel that med­i­cal (mar­i­juana) pa­tients are prob­a­bly go­ing to be left be­hind in the dark, and that’s not a good thing,” said Sarah Havard, man­ager of the Cannabis Sup­ply Co. clinic, 314 Lake St., St. Catharines.

“Our big­gest con­cern is that con­trol board staff won’t know what strain types would ef­fect peo­ple a cer­tain way. They could very well give a per­son cannabis that would have an op­po­site af­fect to what they’re look­ing for. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily dan­ger­ous but it could be con­trary to what they’re try­ing to achieve,” Havard said.

Cannabis Sup­ply Co. has about 900 pa­tients who use mar­i­juana for a va­ri­ety of ail­ments such as back pain, cancer, epilepsy and in­som­nia, to name a few.

“If a pa­tient suf­fers from in­som­nia, and they buy a mar­i­juana strain that gives them en­ergy, it’s go­ing to give them the op­po­site ef­fect and they’re not go­ing to be able to sleep all night. The lack of ed­u­ca­tion is the big­gest con­cern for our pa­tients and fu­ture pa­tients,” Havard said.

In com­par­i­son, she said the clinic’s physi­cians are there to en­sure pa­tients get the sup­port they need “and de­serve.”

Christina Brock, clinic su­per­vi­sor at Bodys­tream Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Ser­vices, on Queen­ston Street, had sim­i­lar con­cerns about the prov­ince’s plan.

“Our de­mo­graphic here is amaz­ing re­ally. We have pa­tients up to the age of 93 years old, and they’re re­ally just look­ing to help with their pain,” Brock said.

“Pa­tients don’t un­der­stand how re­ally in­tri­cate it can be. They think they just smoke it or take it and that’s it, pain’s gone. … There re­ally are so many dif­fer­ent strains (of mar­i­juana) that pro­vide so many dif­fer­ent ef­fects for each in­di­vid­ual di­ag­no­sis and we pro­vide that ed­u­ca­tion.”

Clin­ics can also test pa­tients to pro­tect them against po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous in­ter­ac­tions with other pre­scrip­tion drugs they might be tak­ing, while also weed­ing out pa­tients who are in­ter­ested in ob­tain­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana to get high, rather than for med­i­cal use.

“We process our pa­tients very dili­gently,” Brock said.

Mar­i­juana can also be pre­scribed at the clin­ics con­tain­ing high con­cen­trates of cannabi­noids (CBD), which acts as a po­tent anti-in­flam­ma­tory, while lev­els of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC) are re­duced, elim­i­nat­ing the psy­choac­tiv­ity as­so­ci­ated with the drug. It al­lows pa­tients to ben­e­fit from us­ing the drug with­out be­com­ing in­tox­i­cated.

And un­like so-called med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries — many of whom were shut­down by Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice ear­lier this year for il­le­gally selling the drug — the clin­ics do not di­rectly sup­ply mar­i­juana to pa­tients and do not have any mar­i­juana prod­ucts on site.

Pa­tients who use the clin­ics are ei­ther re­ferred there by physi­cians, or have med­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion about the di­ag­no­sis for which they are seek­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Af­ter be­ing as­sessed by physi­cians at the clinic, pa­tients can be pre­scribed med­i­cal mar­i­juana, and reg­is­ter with a Health Canada li­cenced pro­ducer of the drug. Pa­tients can then or­der di­rectly from the ap­proved mar­i­juana pro­ducer, and the drug is shipped di­rectly to their home.

De­spite con­cerns ex­pressed by the clin­ics about the im­pact the cannabis con­trol board stores could have on pa­tients, Brock Univer­sity as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Dan Mal­leck called the prov­ince’s plan a “good start.”

“Hav­ing the cur­rent liquor con­trol board in­fra­struc­ture man­age dis­tri­bu­tion is also a good thing. On­tario hav­ing a plan in place can pro­vide a good ex­am­ple for other prov­inces,” the ex­pert on Canada’s drug and al­co­hol poli­cies said in a media re­lease.

Mal­leck, how­ever, also de­scribed the plan as a cau­tious ap­proach that builds on the gov­ern­ment’s ex­per­tise in run­ning its LCBO stores.

“Gov­ern­ments want to err on the side of cau­tion when they’re deal­ing with some­thing as his­tor­i­cally so­cially fraught as cannabis,” he said in a media re­lease. “Provin­cial gov­ern­ments are in a tough place be­cause they need to bal­ance so­cial fears about ac­cess to cannabis with the prob­lems of black mar­ket sales. And they also need to fol­low leg­is­la­tion and rec­om­men­da­tions ini­ti­ated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

How­ever, Mal­leck said the cau­tious ap­proach to the sale of the drug could al­low the black mar­ket to con­tinue.

“With­out a good num­ber of ac­cess points, it may be dif­fi­cult to un­der­cut the so-called black mar­ket,” he said.

BOB TYMCZYSZYN/POST­MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Cannabis Sup­ply Co. on Lake Street, St. Catharines.

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